World Cup vuvuzelas vs. filtering technology

Broadcasters dealing with viewer complaints over the horns

COLOGNE, Germany -- Around the world, broadcasts of the soccer World Cup have been accompanied by the same, annoying drone ... of commentators complaining about the vuvuzelas.

The plastic horns are a traditional noisemaker in South African sports stadiums. But the sound of thousands of vuvuzelas honking has commentators, networks and audiences at home raising their voices in protest.

The BBC received 554 viewer complaints about the sound of vuvuzelas in its live World Cup coverage from South Africa, with many fans claiming they couldn't hear the commentary. It's a similar story worldwide, with on-air pundits, newspaper editorials and Internet bloggers pitching in to bitch about the horn.

Even the players hate it. Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has complained that the noise affects player concentration, and the French team blamed its 0-0 draw with Uruguay last Friday on the distracting drone.

After World Cup organizers refused to ban vuvuzelas from South Africa stadiums, several networks have taken matters into their own hands. Sky Deutschland in Germany and Canal + in France have both begun filtering out the blaring noise, which has been likened to a herd of stampeding elephants.

Both broadcasters aired a vuvuzela-free version of Wednesday night's South Africa vs. Uruguay match. Canal Plus used a special sound filter developed by Paris-based Audionamix, while Sky combined several filters to get the right sound.

"The viewers loved it. We got thank you calls, which never happens. Usually people only call in if they want to complain," said Sky spokesman Ralph Further.

The BBC plans to follow suit, promising to filter the vuvuzela sound from England's Friday night match against Algeria. But many broadcasters are worried dampening the noise could also dampen commentators' voices, making them sound robotic.

Univision, which is carrying World Cup games for Spanish-speaking fans in the U.S., is monitoring sound levels but has so far opted not to filter.

"Our goal is to provide the best viewing experience for our audience, and we feel that the vuvuzelas are an important part of living the games," said Alina Falcon, president of News at Univision Communications. "We strive to strike a balance so that our commentators come across clearly without losing the natural passion and excitement of the crowds."

"It is impossible to avoid the sound of the vuvuzelas sneaking into the wireless microphones and those of the commentators' booth," a spokesman for Spanish network Telecinco told THR. He added that Telecinco's mobile unit in South Africa is filtering the international signal distributed by host broadcaster HBS to keep the background noise off to a minimum.

German pubwebs ARD and ZDF have taken a similar tack, though for German matches, the networks say they will filter the live feed slightly to minimize vuvuzela noise.

"I think people have gotten used to it, there are fewer complaints now than there were at the beginning of the tournament," a ZDF spokesman said. "It's part of South Africa, it's part of the atmosphere there. You can't do without it."

Mimi Turner in London, Rebecca Leffler in Paris and Pamela Rolfe in Madrid contributed to this report.
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