My friend wrote and asked if I thought the networks were enhancing the sound of the skate blades on the ice to make it more “real.” I had also noticed the increased sound of the blades. Later, she forwarded me a link to the SVG Blog titled “Live From PyeongChang; Karl Malone, NBC’s Director of Sound Design, on the 2018 Games” outlining how they placed microphones in the ice and then further adjusted the sound mix. On the one hand, their efforts to create a balance of the sounds in the “field of play” (ice skate sounds, the crowd, and the music), does enhance the viewing experience. It’s really amazing what they’re able to do! At the same time, it made me reflect in general terms on “the enhanced experience.”
We live in a space where we watch scripted reality TV that provides us with more drama, the truth booth, and multiple simultaneous perspectives. Now, it seems that “live TV” needs to be enhanced as well (since it can’t be scripted – at least not entirely). In fact, there is an Enhanced stream on the Olympic Channel. I’ve tried to watch it, but I can’t. It creates a split screen environment that distracts from the immersive experience of watching the event. Here’s what I see when I look at the Enhanced screen (with my own comments further enhancing it, of course)…
I wanted the image of the skater to fill the frame. The mounting technical score reminded me of our current overemphasis on athletics and point-scoring to the detriment of the artistic side of skating. The fun facts about the skater were sometimes nice to know, but I’m happiest doing my research independently, because it leads down unexpected paths, instead of passively taking in what someone else decides should be important. I will say I enjoyed watching the reaction of the coaches, as it often mirrored my own. At the same time, the coaches inset took me out of the event, by reminding me that there are always multiple viewers with something at stake watching a particular skater (her coaches, her fans, and the those who are rooting against her).
Perhaps, in the end, the enhanced stream scares me a little. It’s dangerously seductive. I remember when a Current vs. Leader points inset screen first appeared at the top left hand corner of my network broadcast screen shortly before the Sochi Olympics. I taped a piece of paper over the corner of my TV to block it out. In time, the paper fell down, and I got used to the inset. In fact, I started checking it after every jump, sometimes missing a step sequence or spin that I later had to try and catch in the replay. And yet I kept glancing at the inset, thinking “oh, I can watch the entire skate again later on YouTube.” It bothered me how quickly I was adjusting to a multiple screen experience and becoming dependent on knowing that everything was available at any time somewhere else on the web. “Straight skating” was starting to feel like a durational video.
So, after my foray into the enhanced experience, I returned to the standard fare. I watched the Olympics channel (no Tara and Johnny hype). I watched every skater, from every country, from the start to finish, with former Australian National Champion Belinda Noonan commentating alongside in her straightforward way. Other than her voice, I was able to make up my own mind about what I was seeing, just watching the skaters, and I relished both the challenge to not “click away” and my freedom to be an amateur skating viewer again.