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Stop the buzz: Broadcasters filtering vuvuzelas

June 15, 2010

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JOHANNESBURG—TV viewers can take out their earplugs because the vuvuzelas are going to have a bit less buzz.

Host Broadcast Services, the company that provides the broadcast feed for the World Cup, said Tuesday it has doubled its audio filters to reduce the constant blaring buzz of vuvuzelas. TV viewers around the globe have complained that the swarm-of-bees sound from the plastic horns is stinging their ears.

"Despite HBS' core philosophy, which is to provide `realistic' host broadcast coverage reflecting the ambiance in the stadiums, additional audio filtering has been implemented," according to the daily newsletter given to rightsholders Tuesday.

The filters also will minimize other crowd noise in the stadiums, such as chants and cheers. HBS said it has increased the level in the ball mics to provide some balance.

Several broadcasters have already taken their own measures to reduce the drone. French broadcaster TF1 changed its microphones after the opening match between Mexico and host South Africa, replacing them with mics commentators hold close to their mouths to better filter sound.

The BBC, which had received 545 complaints from viewers as of Tuesday morning, said it is considering giving viewers the option of muting ambient noise while maintaining game commentary through its "red button" digital service. Viewers would push a red button on their remote control to receive the quieter broadcast on a separate channel.

"We have already taken steps to minimize the noise and are continuing to monitor the situation," the BBC said in a statement. "If the vuvuzela continues to impact on audience enjoyment, we will look at what other options we can take to reduce the volume further."

The noise of the vuvuzelas has been the talk of the World Cup, so much so that British bookmaker William Hill is now taking bets on whether the horns will be banned at English Premier League stadiums next season.

"The vuvuzela certainly polarizes opinion, and we suspect that individual clubs will want to put a rule in place to enable them to ban them should they threaten to become widespread," Hill's spokesman Graham Sharpe said.

Hill's also is taking bets that the vuvuzelas will be banned by the end of the World Cup. But FIFA president Sepp Blatter has strongly backed the use of the horns since they were introduced to the wider football world at the Confederations Cup test event in South Africa exactly a year ago, and he said again Monday they're here to stay. The vuvuzelas are something uniquely African, and Blatter said he is not about to ban the music traditions of fans in their own country.

Several players said the din of the horns is having an impact on the field. Netherlands striker Robin van Persie avoided a second yellow card -- and a ban from the next game -- by blaming the vuvuzelas for failing to hear an offsides whistle. Argentina striker Carlos Tevez said the din of vuvuzelas makes it hard for players to communicate with each other on the field.

"Those sirens or trumpets -- I don't know what they are -- make it very difficult to speak on the field," Tevez said after Argentina's training session Tuesday at the University of Pretoria. "You have to shout and sometimes you run out of breath, you get a bit more tired. They are extremely bothersome."

But van Persie said he doesn't want to see vuvuzelas banned.

"I think we have to respect it, because we are in South Africa, and we need to respect where we are," he said. "This is their tradition. This belongs to them."

In Durban, Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld scheduled an extra public training session and invited South African fans, knowing they would bring their plastic horns.

Hitzfeld said it was good practice for his players to get used to communicating on the pitch when their voices are drowned out by the constant buzz.

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