Archive for July, 2020

Fake Football Crowds

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

Joh O'Nolan from Unsplash

Joh O'Nolan from Unsplash

When the television companies first learned that they would be broadcasting live matches from an empty stadium one of the first things they carefully considered was the lack of crowd noise.

You would think that a world starved of any major sporting events for several months would be grateful to see any kind of running, jumping or spitting on a carpet of grass by any highly-paid sportspersons regardless of what else was happening around them so it struck me as odd that the organisers should worry over such a minor thing as crowd noise.

But fuss over it they did: they even got a bloody algorithm involved to ‘watch’ the game and to respond appropriately with the level and type of noise any incident might incite from a real crowd. God knows how much time and money went into creating this creepy, insentient watcher in the empty stands.

The games were advertised as being broadcast live – now this is where it all got a bit dark for me.

The default transmission was with the fake noise, by negotiating a red button and some menu options you could watch the unadulterated version, the er, actual ‘live’ event.

Now, I’m quite happy to listen to an argument that says the fake crowd noise is a bit of harmless fun that enhances the enjoyment of the game for the average fan and to be fair, that is the assumed, unspoken argument because I haven’t actually seen it expressed anywhere in precisely those terms.

What is deeply worrying though is that I haven’t heard the counter arguments at all. Huh? I hear you ask, what counter arguments?

Well, I wonder if it was the gambling industry that lobbied for the inclusion of fake crowd noise?

Sporting events are the beating heart of the gambling industry and the more exciting events are, the more likely punters are to bet on them. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were the gambling industry that supplied the time and expertise for the algorithm free of charge (‘free’ in exactly the same way a company donates a sizeable contribution to a political party and then receives a much bigger financial concession when the party comes into power).

But that’s the least of our worries; the greatest worry is that the noise is deliberately fake. Even the BBC is broadcasting a ‘live’ event and the default, unspoken setting is the inclusion of a fake crowd. The BBC reports ‘news’ as well. Notice how the addition of apostrophes affects the comprehension of their news – they cast doubt on the veracity of it. Perhaps the reporting has been doctored in some way – they’ve chosen selective angles to exaggerate a crowd size or planted vox pops to make a specific point? Is that chanting in the background actually there or has it been added?

Fake crowd noise is putting apostrophes around the word ‘live’. The BBC in particular should have been aware of the dangers behind this move. Fake news is the argument killer for any extremist group – simply deny any evidence of wrongdoing as fake news.

By unquestioningly adding fake crowd noise to a game, the broadcasters have added another bullet to the chamber of the gun they’re going to put to their own heads and play Russian roulette with.

And the gambling industry is eager to take your bets on the eventual outcome.