Partisan Crowds

TDG hosted a fascinating public webinar last week on BT Sport’s distribution of English Premier League games in 4K/UHD with Dolby Atmos audio. Definitely worth a download if you didn’t get a chance to hear it.

This same week, the NBA offseason went into overdrive with several megadeals, including Stephen Curry signing the most lucrative four-year contract in the history of American sports — $201 million!

What do these two things have in common?

“There are Two Stories to Every Goal”
Dolby Atmos uses object-based audio technology to create transformative three-dimensional live sports experiences for the ‘home spectator’ that give viewers that spine-tingling feeling of being in the crowd at their favorite stadiums. As well, the home viewer can easily fine tune different audio layers to personalize the audio feed. For example, Atmos uses have the ability to choose the commentator they prefer, or turn the commentator off altogether and immerse themselves in the sounds of the crowd, the players, and the in-stadium public address system. Very compelling technology.

What Atmos does is provide broadcasters with the tools to deliver highly personalized ‘home and away’ audio feeds for a televised game. As Rob France of Dolby succinctly put it, “There are two stories for every goal.” Fans of the team that just scored want to celebrate, while fans of the team that just conceded the goal are understandably upset and want to commiserate. This happens in the stadium, at the pub, and in the home living room.

The idea of Atmos, then, is to enable fans to better experience a televised game from their team’s point of view, according to their team’s ‘story.’

Importantly, this is true not only for sports audio but for sports coverage in general. The Chicago Bulls traded star Jimmy Butler on draft night to my beloved Minnesota Timberwolves. Timberwolves fans on sites like Canis Hoopus were basically beside themselves with joy. Chicago Bulls fans over on Blog a Bull, by contrast, were (to put it mildly) not amused.

All this puts middle-of-the-road sites like ESPN in a very difficult position. Traditionally, mainstream media was just that – mainstream. National brands like ESPN in sports and CNN in news are trying to appeal to everyone, which makes them avoid taking ‘partisan’ positions on the news of the day.

SportsCenter, for example, became famous for its “Play of the Day” segment in which the network highlights the most athletically impressive play of the day, irrespective of team, player, or outcome of the game. A second approach commonly taken by such networks is to bring on two commentators (most famously at ESPN by Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless) and have them argue both sides of an issue. Both approaches are understandable, but no longer enough for today’s sports fans.

In a world of unlimited choice, the hard truth is that many people will choose to surround themselves with people who agree with them (and avoid those who do not). This is true for news and political coverage just as much as it is for sports, which helps explain why MSNBC and Fox News (and not CNN) now battle it out for the top position in cable news. Partisanship sells.

Marshall McLuhan was right – the medium is the message. Digital media inherently expands choice and personalization. This is as true for blogs as it is for live sports broadcasts. Like it or not, we’re all partisans now.

Stick with TDG and stay ahead of the curve.

Joel Espelien is Senior Advisor for TDG and VP of Client Services for the Corum Group doing sell-side technology acquisitions. He lives near Seattle, WA.