Another innovation unique to the 2020 baseball season was formally unveiled during FOX’s broadcast of the Milwaukee Brewers-Chicago Cubs game on Saturday.
Behold, the virtual fan.
No fans? Not on FOX Sports.
Here's a first look at our latest broadcasting innovation: virtual fans. pic.twitter.com/vri4BO6vzb
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 25, 2020
That’s right, with no actual fans in the stands, Fox Sports is utilizing cutting-edge Pixatope software to create customizable virtual fans that will populate the stands during broadcasts. The virtual fans will even have the ability to react audibly with cheers or boos depending on what’s happening in the game.
To this point, we’ve only seen broadcasts from empty stadiums or stadiums partially filled with cardboard cutouts. In most ballparks, there has also been piped-in crowd noise. FOX executives hope the visual of virtual fans in the stands will enhance the viewing experience by bringing a greater “sense of normalcy” to the game for at-home viewers.
How are fans reacting?
So far at least, it appears home viewers aren’t in love with the visual. While some people are cool with it, others would prefer the uniqueness of the circumstances over computer-generated effects.
— John Tackeff (@jtackeff) July 25, 2020
Same goes for piped in crowd noise.
— CB969 (@CB969onRBR) July 25, 2020
I don’t know what I thought "virtual fans” would look like, but boy do these look terrible
— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) July 25, 2020
I actually enjoy the contrast from the norm w empty stadiums
— OneFive (@15_mrh) July 25, 2020
I think I am in the minority but I love the virtual fans that FOX is using for their baseball telecasts. It isn’t the same as having real fans but it is a million times better than cardboard cutouts or empty seats. pic.twitter.com/DiMvu4OEsb
— Aaron Braddy (@BraddyAaron_) July 25, 2020
— Mark Kerndt (@MarkKerndt) July 25, 2020
What’s the most common complaint?
Oddly enough, the most common complaint from disapproving fans is how infrequently the virtual fans actually appear.
In most camera shots, the stands remain empty. It’s only the wide camera angles that show a “full” stadium. It seems the thumbs down crowd would have a higher opinion if the virtual fans were always visible.
If the point of virtual fans is to make the game feel more normal you kind of need to have the virtual fans in every camera angle, not just four of the cameras.
— Confirmed Mask Wearer (@TySpaced) July 25, 2020
Unless @MLBONFOX can make the virtual fans consistent, they should dump it. Go with the cardboard cutouts
— All In Illinois (@ChiTownSports) July 25, 2020
They're using virtual fans in today's Cubs game and it feels like the technology isn't there yet. I wish they'd just use cutouts for now.
— Gemini (@GeminiSkunk) July 25, 2020
The inconsistency of the virtual fans in this Brewers/Cubs game is making me uncomfortable. They’re there in one shot and gone the next. Pick a lane! All or none!
— Montmorency (@ForgotAboutRay) July 25, 2020
Will real fans warm up to virtual fans?
It’s possible. We’ve already seen fans become more accepting of cardboard cutouts after initially being unsure. This will probably take more time. It might even require some adjustments on the technology side. Regardless, fans should get used to it, because it’s not going away anytime soon.
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