Dr. Maarten Wijnants, Senior Researcher, imec – EDM – UHasselt, Published on 27/10/2016
There is a wealth of real-world cultural events happening in Europe every year. A significant portion of these events span an extended geographic area or are even spatially federated in the sense that they are composed of sub-events that are happening simultaneously at different geographic locations. A good example of this category of geographically distributed events, and the type of event that will be focussed on in this blogpost, are large-scale music festivals that involve parallel performances at geographically spread out locations. Examples of European music festivals that satisfy these criteria include Rock Werchter in Belgium, Glastonbury in the UK and Sonar Barcelona in Spain.
Unfortunately, physically attending real-world events is not always practically feasible. Potential impediments include, but are not limited to, excessive travelling overhead, ticket shortage, accessibility issues due to personal disabilities, and lack of interest among your friends to accompany you. By disclosing the event in the virtual domain, such inhibiting factors can effectively be overcome. Virtual attendance can be achieved by capturing the event on-site using sensors like cameras and microphones and then streaming the resulting footage to off-site users.
The WanderCouch research, realized as part of the EU FP7 ICoSOLE project, aims to provide a substitute TV-mediated experience that is able to immerse home users in a music festival from the comfort and convenience of their living room. The WanderCouch solution is grounded on the expectations users have about remotely experiencing and engaging with music festivals, in a way that goes beyond the sort of festival experiences that are conveyed by traditional TV broadcasts. These end-user expectations have been elicited using an online survey, non-functional mock-up assessments, co-design sessions and structured interviews with representatives of the target audience for the proposed approach, which in fact consist of music enthusiasts in general and fans of music festivals in particular who, for any reason whatsoever, are unable to personally attend a specific festival.
The WanderCouch approach has been crystallized in the shape of a Smart TV application, populated using footage captured during the 2015 edition of Festival Dranouter in Belgium. Although it encompasses a plethora of contemporary innovations in the technical domain, it is important to realize that only those technological options have been integrated that in our expectation elicitation study were found to be actually useful in the context of virtualizing a visit to a real-life music festival. The following is an enumeration of WanderCouch’s most notable technical features and the potential they hold in terms of facilitating convincing remote event participation:
– Multi-angle professional video recordings (enabled by affordable capture equipment), potentially combined with 360 degree video captures, allow viewers to alternate between vantage points while consuming musical performances
– The exploitation of user-generated content (UGC), contributed by festival visitors using their smartphone, improves the coverage of the festival in terms of both breadth (people tend to record the concerts they attend) and depth (there is a high probability that visitors will record interesting things, potentially non-concert-related, that escape the attention of the professional capture crew).
– Two distinct types of maps inform people at home about the spatial traits of the music festival, allow them to create a “mental map” of the festival environment, and enable virtual navigation of the geographic area occupied by the festival in the real world
– Social Media integration (i.c., Twitter) keeps the viewer up-to-speed with respect to the online conversation surrounding the music festival
While all these features have their individual merits, WanderCouch draws its strength exactly from the synergy that emerges from integrating all these features in a single solution space. For example, by blending professional audiovisual footage with UGC, WanderCouch affords users the ability to watch concerts in high fidelity, while at the same time offering them glimpses of the events that happen in the margin of the music festival.
The following two screenshots illustrate the concert playback screen of the WanderCouch prototype. The first image visualizes the option of professional camera feed selection, while the second demonstrates picture-in-picture playback of a UGC clip captured by an audience member.
The next two screenshot respectively illustrate the topographic map and the so-called panoramic map provisions included in the WanderCouch approach. The topographic map scene offers viewers a two-dimensional, top-down overview of the festival terrain, visually linking live professional video feeds of each of the currently ongoing concerts to (the location of) the stage where that musical performance is taking place. At the same time, the topographic map visualizes video feeds that are originating from festival locations other than stages; these feeds are non-interactive and are purely meant for ambiance communication by providing viewers a sense of the non-concert-related activities and events that are taking place on the festival grounds. The panoramic map on the other hand can best be summarized as offering a virtual navigation experience akin to Google Street View, yet hereby relying on 360 degree video instead of static imagery. The map links together a finite number of discrete locations that collectively span the most interesting spots on the festival terrain (e.g., the entrance to the festival grounds, food courts, stage access areas, and so on). Live 360 degree video footage is available for each location featured in the panoramic map, with users being able to perform unconstrained Pan-Tilt-Zoom viewport modification at each single location. A 2D mini-map, complemented with graphical icons overlaid on top of the 360 degree footage, inform the user of the outbound travelling options; by pressing the corresponding button on the remote control, the viewer “teleports” to the selected location.
The WanderCouch approach has been evaluated subjectively to validate its potential in terms of immersive music festival disclosure in the virtual domain. The user study findings hint that the application in general resonates well with members of its target audience and that it holds potential to transcend conventional TV broadcasts or live streaming solutions when it comes to coverage, conveyed festival impressions and overall provided experience.
Even though the WanderCouch research to date has exclusively considered a music festival context, we believe our approach to be useful in other scenarios as well, ranging from high-profile cultural events like La Biennale di Venezia to smaller-scale cultural happenings like local theatre productions or fairs.
We would like to conclude this blogpost with expressing our strong conviction that innovative solutions like WanderCouch are necessary instruments to transfer the tremendous potential of Europe’s creative industry to the next level, on a total of three axes:
- Cultural and creative: By allowing remote users to contribute to the overall event experience (i.e., the experience shared by both on- and off-site visitors), for example by opening up UGC creation to people who are following the event from their living room, interesting creative experiments might arise, which in the end might lead to the emergence of novel types of cultural experiences
- Social: Scaffolding remote event attendance and participation augments the reach of the real-world event and holds benefits in terms of, for instance, cultural inclusiveness
- Economic: From an economic perspective, opportunities in terms of virtual event attendance might introduce novel revenue models that the creative community as well as organizers of cultural events could capitalize on
We hope that this blogpost has sparked your enthusiasm with respect to the WanderCouch research and, from a broader perspective, the issues tackled by the ICoSOLE research project. Readers eager to acquire a more comprehensive impression of the WanderCouch prototype, its functional features, and findings from its subjective evaluation are kindly referred to the scientific article from which this blogpost has been synthesized. Alternatively, feel free to check out our promotional video on YouTube.