You’ve got to hear it to believe it

Art house movies always seem to reveal new possibilities. Last week I watched Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle, a deep dive into one of the world’s most fascinating athletes &mdash French football god and legendary hothead Zinedine Zidane.

The film spans a single game, and dozens of cameras are trained on Zidane for the game’s 90 minutes. Throughout, you’re connected to Zidane &mdash pressed up against his face, attached to his hip as he glides through the defense, drifting around him as he scans the field. You’re also immersed in the sound of the event &mdash chatter between players, the sound of cleats cutting into the ground, the distant crowd roar, and strange periods of silence.

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Zinedine Zidane, from the film Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle, (translation: Zidane, a 21st century portrait)

It’s the sound that really did it for me. The gasps for breath, the immediate shifts in the pace of footsteps, the ka-chunk of the foot hitting the ball, the zzzzzip of the ball on top of the grass. If you applied this super hi-fi sound to sports I watch all the time &mdash NBA basketball, for instance &mdash the end result would be incredibly compelling.
Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling sat courtside during the NBA Finals, and heard this nugget from Laker forward Lamar Odom:

[Kevin Garnett] goes to the line, and Lamar Odom … is saying “Hey KG why don’t you help on the ball down here?” Pointing to the paint, and I am guessing he’s referencing the fact that KG wasn’t down in the paint mixing it up. He says it again, loudly, KG doesn’t even acknowledge him, and sinks both. Impressive, total focus.

We all know how that turned out, but I would have loved to have tracked the arc of the trash talk along the way.

Idea: Pay-for-sound

It’s obvious, isn’t it? The networks and distributors (cable/satellite companies) should create a service in which viewers can take control of audio — turn on live sound, turn on (or off) various commentators, music, etc.

Of course, there’s the problem of what the athletes are actually saying, which — in my experience with trash talk on the playgrounds of Prairie Village, Kansas — is more profane and offensive than the above example. Still, the service would be a premium, opt-in kind of thing, so you can warn the folks who may be offended, and they can leave when the f-bombs start dropping. Also, really, are there any fans left who believe that today’s professional athletes are modern-day Johnny Unitases? These aren’t problems, these are market opportunities.

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Wouldn’t you love to know what Kobe is saying? [Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images]

Obviously, this involves a brand new media distribution platform, but think of the upside for everyone involved. Can you even imagine the various product tie-ins that companies like Disney could do? They own ABC and ESPN, so they could give the viewer access to all sorts of additional content, i.e. they could push all varieties of cross-sell (Hannah Montana, or American Idol, or something from the back catalog, as a soundtrack along with the game). Opportunities!

Of course, this could be a genie best left in the bottle. For people like me, it may in fact lead to something very close to what David Foster Wallace called The Entertainment in Infinite Jest — an ostensibly benign bit of media that turns everyone who watches it catatonic. But it would be worth it.

2 Comments

sbr0
Great idea, I have never had the opportunity to sit close enough to the court to get that kind of experience. That would be worth paying for. And what if you had the choice of switching between several different audio-casts of the same TV event? Such as: ? Your local commentators during an away game. ? A couple comedians who do not have to be politically correct. ? A group of junior high girls during the final of American Idol. ? Anyone who cares to be streaming an audio feed of the event you are whatching.
Doug LeMoine
@sbr0: Nice examples, and I especially love the idea of watching with the local commentators. I often try to hack something like that together, e.g. by listening to the Kansas City Royals commentators over my PC while watching them play the A's on my local (Bay Area) TV station, but the audio always precedes the video by a second or two. Here's another interesting development: LG has introduced a broadband-enabled HDTV. In the near-term, they're offering access to the Netflix Watch Instantly library, but obviously the possibilities for the kinds of things we're talking about have become a lot more real. You could imagine that the so-called Worldwide Leader in Sports (i.e., ESPN), for instance, could create a platform that provides access to all kinds of value-added content -- alternative commentary, related classic content, moderated chats with some of their more knowledgeable/entertaining talking heads, etc. Now THERE would be a reason to be an Insider. Here's more about the broadband-enabled HDTV from the NYT: http://is.gd/eDvF

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