Would you watch a movie without audio (on mute)? Not unless you want to yell across your living room at/to someone. Right?
That’s because the audio is such an essential part of watching a movie or a video. A deep baritone voice with a haunting background score can take a scene to a different level.
An example of this is my favorite scene from the movie “Shawshank Redemption.” In this scene, Andy Dufresne plays “Canzonetta sull’ aria” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” over the loudspeakers and enthralls his fellow inmates.
You can “watch” this scene repeatedly with your eyes closed, ears open, max volume, and Morgan Freeman’s narration will do the rest.
Importance of Audio in Sports
Anyone who has ever watched South American football/soccer will recognize the quintessential “gooooooaaaaaaal” from the commentators every time a goal is scored. Here is a clip of South American football –
But, what you also might have noticed is the noise of the crowd – all those fans screaming, cheering, hooting for their teams, and booing at the opposing teams.
This is what constitutes a home-ground advantage, right? Having a boisterous crowd yelling at the top of their voices and intimidating the opposition! It’s an integral part of large sporting events and is one reason people pay a lot of money to watch sports.
The right atmosphere counts!
Crowds during a pandemic?
But, where are the crowds in a pandemic-stricken world? Leagues across Europe are making their way back with strict rules and regulations to prevent players and support staff from contracting and spreading the contagious COVID-19 virus.
Players apparently don’t shake hands, their change rooms are sanitized before and after matches, and the most significant change of them all – there are no crowds! Games will be played behind “closed doors” without any crowds and with minimal support and ground staff.
An inadvertent consequence of this decision is the absence of crowd noises. Imagine this for a minute –
You have two teams battling it out on the field, the camera crew is capturing the event, and your audience is watching the live stream …. but without the crowd’s noise.
In other words, a terrible experience.
Augmented Audio / Fake Noise
DAZN is trying to add “augmented audio” for the Bundesliga matches and has created a Crowd-DJ position in their office!!
DAZN said, and I quote –
When the Bundesliga announced its return in early May, we immediately began exploring ways to create the most immersive experience for fans at home.
When I read this, it sounded similar to car manufacturers trying to add some artificial noise to their electric vehicles because they were too silent!
So, what DAZN did was break down the problem of augmented audio into small pieces and tackle them one at a time. A brilliant move!
- DAZN first recorded an empty stadium’s ambient noise, which forms the absolute baseline upon which you would layer other noises.
- They then extracted the noises made by the crowds, the players and coaches, and instances of goals, fouls, yellow, and red cards from their digital archives of the past years.
- DAZN mentions that they also created a 5-min clip of the crowd devoid of chanting and sudden noises and looped that clip throughout the match. They discovered that anything less than 5 minutes would probably be discovered as fake noise! Very interesting indeed.
After gathering these clips, they had to enlist the services of an engineer who played the role of a “Crowd DJ.” The crowd DJ’s job was to mix the noises at the right times to recreate the feeling that the game is being played in front of an actual crowd.
Is Augmented Audio the way forward?
I think it is if this pandemic continues without any vaccines coming out soon. Apart from this, the learnings that will come out of such experiments are invaluable.
Audio Latency Problems?
There are issues that anyone venturing into fake-noise/augmented audio has to consider, and the prime among them (in my opinion) is “audio latency.” I would say this is similar to lip-sync issues that are SO annoying, but, in the case of fake noise for sporting events, audio latency would kill the viewing experience.
For example, imagine the following just happened.
1 min for the game to end, and Ronaldo has the ball. He is tearing down the field and kicks the ball, which curves prodigiously and misses the goal by mere inches.
In a real match, the sighs and the “oooh” s from the crowd would occur almost immediately after the goal was missed. This would be followed by loud cheering from the opposition.
But, in augmented audio, either the crowd-DJ gets the timing right or misses it completely. If the crowd-DJ adds the “ooohs” and the “boos” 3 seconds after the ball went past the goal, the experience is probably going to be worse than Ronaldo missing the goal in the first place!
Only time and experience will tell if augmented audio / fake-noise will be a mainstay in the sports broadcasting industry.