The Scotsman

“We live in a world where peo­ple can sit in New Zealand and watch a game. Clubs got it... the ex-pat au­di­ence can be huge ”

● Al­bion Rovers’ plight in­spired Net­flix chief to bring Pix­el­lott cam­era to SPFL

- By ALAN PAT­TULLO Sports · New Zealand · Hollywood · Albion Rovers F.C. · Hollywood · Los Angeles · EFL League Two · Brad Pitt · Netflix · Bristol Rovers F.C. · Facebook · Twitter · Scottish Professional Football League · Championship · Norway · Mark Millar · Stenhousemuir · Betfred

Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer MARK MILLAR on the state-of- the-art cam­era sys­tem that will al­low lower-league clubs to stream matches at home and abroad

Clifton hill, the love able if ram­shackle home of Al­bion Rovers, is not where any­one might ex­pect to learn about ro­botic cam­eras pow­ered by ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

A con­ver­sa­tion b et ween a Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer work­ing in Los An­ge­les and a League Two chair­man in May sparked a chain of events lead­ing to yes­ter­day’s event to launch a state-of-the-art cam­era sys­tem set to change the way foot­ball is viewed in this coun­try, and, po­ten­tially, else­where.

It is also ex­pected to prove life­sav­ing for a num­ber of small clubs who now have the abil­ity to live stream games through cut­ting edge AI tech­nol­ogy with­out the need for large, ex­pen­sive out­door broad­cast teams. Twenty two of 30 clubs out with the Pre - mier­ship have al­ready signed up. The tech­nol­ogy uses a multi- cam­era ar­ray that cov­ers the whole field of play be­fore stream­ing the ac­tion straight into sports venues and homes. The footage is of high enough qual­ity to be used by tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ers for high­light pack­ages.

Mark Millar – the afore­men­tioned Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer and creator of such comic book ti­tles as Kick-ass, later made into a film star­ring Brad Pitt – was pleas­antly sur­prised to learn the scales had fallen from the eyes of many Scot­tish clubs dur­ing the pan­demic.

“Small Scot­tish clubs have a rep­u­ta­tion for not be­ing for ward think­ing, so you are think­ing :‘ this is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult’,” said Millar, who is orig­i­nally from Coat bridge and still watches Al­bion Rovers when he is in the coun­try.

“But they sud­denly thought: ‘we can ei­ther stick with the 19 th cen­tury plan of how many peo­ple we can get into the sta­dium and how many pies we can sell or we can take ad­van­tage of the fact we live in a world where peo­ple can sit in New Zealand and watch a game’. They got it. They re­alised the ex-pat au­di­ence can be huge.”

Millar, now an ex­ec­u­tive at Net­flix, ex­plained the ge­n­e­sis of the project .“Back in lock­down, ev­ery­one was go­ing mad try­ing to think of some­thing to do. I was lucky, I was edit­ing a film and a TV show and writ­ing new stuff. My job is one of the few where you can stay in the house.

“But I was get­ting so bored. The kids were driv­ing me men­tal. I was wor­ry­ing about my pals who were los­ing their jobs. And then I thought about the Rovers. On Face­book it said they were try­ing to raise £10,000 just to sur­vive the next few months. This is not good. Ten grand does not go that far.”

Millar started think­ing out of the box. “It was a nice dis­trac­tion,” he said. He had orig­i­nally planned to do some­thing more tra­di­tional – fa­cil­i­tat­ing broad­cast­ing lower league games on tele­vi­sion. He phoned up the heads of BBC and I TV. He learned that even hir­ing a broad­cast van to tele­vise a sin­gle game costs £20,000.

“Then I started chatting on­line,” he con­tin­ued. Twit­ter brought him into con­tact with Iain Mcmen­emy, the for­ward-think­ing chair­man of Sten­house­muir. Like Millar, he is not afraid of in­no­va­tion.

“We are kin­dred spir­its,” said Millar. Hand­ily, Millar had a friend with a busi­ness pro­vid­ing dig­i­tal plat­forms for sport. The up­shot is Pix­el­lott, a sin­gle cam­era in­stal­la­tion – one is al­ready perched un­ob­tru­sively at the top of a Clifton­hill main stand pil­lar – that will al­low fans of S cot­tish lower league clubs to pay to watch their team play closed- door matches.

Man­agers and coaches will also be able to record train­ing ses­sions and pre­pare video anal­y­sis.

Mill a rh as com­mit­ted to fund­ing the sys­tem at Clifton­hill for three years. Cost­ing around £12,000 to in­stall, it will re­quire an­other £3,000 a year to main­tain the software sys­tem.

Clubs can be­gin earn­ing much-needed in­come as soon as their sea­son starts next month. Pre­mier Sports, who own the rights for the Betfred Cup, have given per­mis­sion to clubs to livestream first round group games, which kick-off in the first week of Oc­to­ber. Sky Sports, who hold the SPFL broad­cast rights, have given per­mis­sion for clubs to livestream league games.

Al­bion Rovers are for­tu­nate to have a me­dia mogul like Millar to shoul­der the fi­nan­cial bur­den, ini­tially at least. Those Cham­pi­onship clubs who have signed up to date have re­ceived fund­ing from Watch&bet, a sup­plier of live sports video to on­line and retail book­mak­ers.

The re­cent do­na­tion from phi­lan­thropist James Anderson has proved a game-changer for some clubs.

“The James Anderson money has been the dif­fer­ence, if it was not for that then we would not be able to af­ford this,” said Mcmen­emy, whose club, Sten­house­muir, have a sig­nif­i­cant fan base in Nor­way. Th­ese farflung sup­port­ers, and those of other clubs, can now look for­ward to tun­ing in ev­ery week.

“On Face­book it said Rovers were try­ing to raise £10,000 just to sur­vive the next few months. This is not good”

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 ??  ?? 0 Net­flix ex­ec­u­tive Mark Millar, left, and Iain Mcmen­emy with the Pix­el­lott cam­era at Clifton­hill.
0 Net­flix ex­ec­u­tive Mark Millar, left, and Iain Mcmen­emy with the Pix­el­lott cam­era at Clifton­hill.

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