Salford Research helps to create immersive virtual crowd sound

Categories: School of Science, Engineering and Environment

Competitive sport has returned, albeit it behind closed doors and often with virtual crowd sound aimed at giving fans an enhanced experience whilst sat at home.

Salsa Sound, a spin out company from University of Salford, specialises in creating tools which help automate and augment live sports audio mixing using artificial intelligence, providing more engaging and immersive experiences for viewers.

With the likelihood of games in empty stadiums the company was presented with a different challenge. Rob Oldfield, the company’s CEO said: “When we were first hit by the pandemic it was a concerning time for us as our work focused on live events.  Once it was clear that sports were returning behind closed doors, we created our vCROWD app.  This creates a virtual crowd sound using an intuitive touchscreen interface with the operator controlling excitement and applause levels with a single gesture and triggering one off samples of key events, like, cheers, jeers, chants and so om This produces a realistic sound that fits the on-pitch action as if the real crowd were at the stadium.”

Manchester City FC used vCROWD to provide crowd sound for highlights of a recent game, describing the resulting match sound as ‘epic’. Ben Shirley, Co-founder Salsa Sounds said: “It was such an amazing opportunity to use this new technology for a high-profile match. Manchester City released highlights of the game that featured the virtual crowd technology and it got over 2 million views in the first 24 hours.” Manchester City FC have an on-going collaboration with Salsa Sound to create even more immersive audio sound experiences for fans. The vCROWD app has proved to be a real hit elsewhere as well, Salsa Sound recently signed a deal with CBS to cover National Women’s Soccer League matches in the US.

Rob Oldfield, CEO of Salsa Sound, formerly a researcher at the university, added: “I spent a lot of time at Salford studying Acoustics and worked in spatial audio as part of my PhD. We recognised that there was a gap in the market for personalised and immersive experiences in broadcast, in particular sport. Salsa Sound was created to provide solutions to that market need. Salford carries out world-leading research in audio and has been a great environment for an innovative start-up to grow”.

Rob Oldfield and Ben Shirley worked in partnership with the university’s technology transfer office to create and develop the company. Blake Prime, IP Manager for the University of Salford said: “The market opportunity provided by the technology developed by Ben and Rob was clear - the challenge was turning this opportunity into a product. The journey from initial concept to the creation of the Salsa Sound company was both exciting & challenging – seeing the technology used by top level industry partners demonstrates the value in our collaborative approach. “      

Salsa Sound will continue to offer the virtual crowd solution as we ease out of lockdown and as fans return to the stadium, they plan to extend their automated mixing technology across multiple sports, creating more engaging and immersive experiences for fans.



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