World Cup

Making Money on Vuvuzela Fighters


Vuvuzelas—those plastic horns bleating in the background at every World Cup soccer match—have created an industry: vuvuzela fighters. Broadcasters are doing what they can to reduce the noise, and they knew the horns would be a problem even before the first ball was kicked. "We learned from the Confederations Cup [in South Africa last year]," says Niclas Ericson, director of the TV division at FIFA, the governing body for international soccer. "We are still working to improve the sound." Even so, ESPN and Britain's BBC both say they have had complaints from fans, though they're reluctant to entirely mute the sound of the horns for fear of losing the atmosphere of the matches. For Nascar races, "we cut [the motors] way down, because if that's all you hear, it's not a great experience," John Skipper, ESPN's vice-president of content, said in a conference call with reporters on June 14. "We're doing the same thing" at the World Cup.

Others are offering do-it-yourself options to the vuvuzela-phobic. Elgato, the maker of EyeTV software that lets Mac users watch television online, has added a feature to reduce the noise. On June 12, German sound engineer Clemens Schleiwies launched a website called antivuvuzelafilter.com offering $3.60 downloads of an MP3 file that he says viewers can play on their stereo to cancel out the sound of the horns. And on June 14, Parisian Benoît Rigaut opened vuvuzelafiltering.com, a compendium of tips on cutting the noise from TV broadcasts. One idea: If your TV has an equalizer, drop the 300Hz band as low as possible. "I became really annoyed by the vuvuzela sound," Rigaut said in an e-mail. "It was really obvious that sound filtering was the only way to go."

Some think the vuvuzela buzz isn't all bad. On June 23, a vuvuzela button appeared on Youtube, allowing users to add the sound to videos. A Dutch company called Moblio.nl created a vuvuzela app for the iPhone and iPad after last year's Confederations Cup. Since the World Cup started in June, interest has spiked, and the app has been downloaded more than 4.5 million times. "We thought it would be popular," says Moblio.nl co-founder Lyan van Furth, "but not like this."

The bottom line: Net entrepreneurs and broadcasters are helping viewers reduce the buzz of vuvuzela horns, though some fans say they like the sound.

Prentice is a contributing reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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