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DTV Audio Group Zoom Seminar Revisits Enhanced' Crowd Sound

15/09/2020

DTV Audio Group Zoom Seminar Revisits Enhanced' Crowd Sound Discussion indicates how attitudes on the concept have evolved By Dan Daley, Audio Editor

Monday, September 14, 2020 - 12:34 pm

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Story Highlights

The DTV Audio Group Sept. 8 online seminar Crowd-Less Audio II Sounds From the Bubbles and Beyond took a second look at the subject of artificial (or enhanced ) crowd audio pumped into sports venues and on broadcasts, a follow-up to the DTVAG's Zoom seminar on the topic in May. During that earlier event, participants were generally - sometimes vehemently - opposed to the idea of using prerecorded crowd audio. The September discussion indicated a markedly different attitude.

Said one A1 in the earlier meeting, The players and us rely on the cheering, especially of the home crowd. And that sounds and feels very different from any fake crowd noise.

DTAVG seminar participants representing broadcasters and vendors have reversed their attitude toward artificial crowd noise in venues.

Said another, We're not making a film. What we're doing is documenting a live event, and we're not adding sweetening or sound effects. It needs to be accurate and realistic.

The more recent event reflected what one participating A1 called a 180-degree shift in attitudes toward the concept.

The latest event looked at so-called enhanced crowd audio used thus far on MLB, MLS, NBA, NASCAR, NHL, and PGA games, matches, races, and broadcasts, as well as what to expect with NFL coverage.

America Likes It' Participants who had worked on the NBA's enclosed environment at the Wide World of Sports complex were highly complimentary of its audio quality and the unique design of its infrastructure, which placed a surround-type PA system around the perimeters of the basketball courts to allow the prerecorded crowd sounds - sourced from NBA videogames and archived broadcast games - to follow the action around the field of play, just as actual crowd reactions do. The convergence of the NBA's restarted season and postseason play in a single, highly controlled venue - the NHL is confined to two locations, but baseball, soccer, and the NFL are using home teams' own venues for games - was credited with much of the quality of its enhanced sound. Brian Rio, director, sound design, Warner Media Studios, describing himself as initially skeptical of the idea, noted that analysis of social-media comments on the topic suggests that America likes it.

ESPN Senior Audio Engineer Scott Pray, another initial skeptic, said, It's working and working well. It sounds like a regular NBA game, and that's success. The controlled environment is an advantage; it makes it believable.

Comparing the NBA's bubble to a mini Olympics arena, ESPN Associate Director, Remote Production Operations, Henry Rousseau put the NBA's audio in context: It augments the situation we're in now. It doesn't take the place of fans but gives a sense of what it used to sound like, without over-exaggerating [it].

Turner Sports/Warner Media Senior Audio Engineer Dave Grundtvig, the engineering architect of the NBA's under-court contact-microphone arrays that pick up effects sound, emphasized that this is not fake sound but rather enhanced and sweetened, and it's truly an art what [the crowd-sound mixers] are doing. They've embraced and adapted it and have the tools to make it work.

Those under-floor microphones are apparently gaining fans at the networks. Grundtvig explained that they are picking up some of the crowd sound from the PA speakers in addition to the sneaker squeaks and, when combined with room ambience from high-placed microphones, provide a nicely rounded mix for the RSNs taking the game feeds from ESPN and the league. Some wonder, he noted, if this kind of array could be manufactured for regular use.

It's not easy, he said, but it's a great experiment, and we'll see how to push it forward.

Hockey Analyzing the NHL's implementation of enhanced crowd audio, Karl Malone, director, sound design, NBC Sports and Olympics, said that league reaction to an early demonstration of a system using Ableton Live and a matrix controller was positive but that the league was unsure whether it wanted to use that audio for the ice only or to also feed it to the broadcast.

Matt Coppedge, senior audio engineer, NBC Sports, and Jeff Kozak, senior audio engineer, Dome Productions, both of whom mix the crowd sounds in Toronto and Edmonton, confirmed that, once players heard the crowd sounds, they wanted more, a trend that has extended to most sports over the summer. Coppedge credited EA Sports with not only sourcing the crowd sounds but also coming up with highly specific ones, such as the sharp intake of collective breath when a player is suddenly injured.

Kozak noted that the choice of the controller was important because the matrix arrangement of input buttons allows the very fast reactions required by hockey's speed. Patrick Castonguay, senior audio engineer, Dome Productions, who mixes NHL games for the network, paid Coppedge and Kozak what he called the highest possible compliment: It sounds amazing, like a regular hockey game. It sounds good and natural. I like that it's in the PA system, because it's more of a live feel. It gives me a good sound bed I can work around.

A Mixed Bag in Baseball Baseball has had a less consistent experience with artificial crowd sounds, mainly because of the often wide acoustical and technical variations between MLB stadiums. Thirty different PA systems [of various vintages, types, and quality] and 30 different editorial-decision makers, said Glenn Stilwell, senior audio engineering/operations manager, PAC-12 Networks. It has been a mixed bag, but it's getting better.
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2020/09/14/dtv-audio-group-zoom-seminar-re...
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