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Snapchat’s Latest Trick Edits Crowd Footage Into A Single, Seamless Broadcast

Live concerts and breaking news might never be the same.

Snapchat’s Latest Trick Edits Crowd Footage Into A Single, Seamless Broadcast

Snapchat Stories, which intercut the moments of many Snapchatters at events like football game or ceremonies, can be powerful portraits of a place and time. But they’re inherently disjointed, full of odd jump cuts, and they feel hours removed from real life.

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But what if Snap could seamlessly sync the footage of its 173 million users? What if it could coordinate everyone’s phone to work in simultaneous harmony, like the cameras on a movie set? Suddenly, these disjointed stories could be told as fluidly as a professionally directed TV broadcast.

Now Snap can do just that, with a new feature called Crowd Surf that’s rolling out slowly at special events. It made its debut during a Lorde concert at the San Francisco music festival Outside Lands over the weekend, and though the footage is a bit shaky, the potential is obvious: Snap has successfully cut together many perspectives of Lorde’s performance into a single, seamless audio track.

That’s no small technical feat. The track was built in 10-second bursts, scraped from phones in vastly different positions to nearby speakers. And it only took the service about a minute to cut the video together, meaning Crowd Surf can publish content in near-real time.

Crowd Surf is based upon technology built within Snap. Using machine learning techniques, Snap takes a spectograph (or “sound print”) of audio playing in a location (like a concert). Snap parses many people’s clips to identify the baseline sound print of the event space. Then, Snap filters each person’s audio a little differently so that they seamlessly match up to a single aural aesthetic. 

While the technical explanation is mind-bending, the user experience feels totally natural. Of course Snap should be able broadcast a perfect live concert, shot from a dozen different smartphones–who cares how hard it was to build?

The question is, what does Snap do with this technology? The company recently debuted a maps feature that allows you to explore events around the world. It’s easy to imagine Snap becoming a place where you can tap on a rodeo in Wyoming or a snowboard competition in Colorado, and then watch either just like you would a broadcast on ESPN. It could also solidify Snap as a hub for breaking news like the terrorist attack in Nice, France. Instead of a single live broadcast capturing the tragedy, hundreds of people might be on the ground, telling an algorithm-cut story exactly as it unfolded.

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Indeed, while Snap’s growth has stagnated, it continues to innovate its platform all the same. Maybe Snapchat won’t be the biggest social messaging service of the future. But if there’s a cable TV for generation Z, it’s looking a lot like Snapchat

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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