Football fan makes it his business to broadcast the action

Dundalk supporter Donal Scannell has come up with technology to film live events at a fraction of the usual cost

5th November, 2021
Football fan makes it his business to broadcast the action
Ciaran Donegan, Anil Kokaram and Donal Scannell of Arama: ‘We’re deliberately marketing ourselves at broadcasters’. Picture: Fergal Phillips

Donal Scannell was sitting in Tallaght Stadium, watching Shamrock Rovers play Dundalk in the League of Ireland, when the realisation hit him: he needed to make a business out of live television.

Scannell was one of 300 Dundalk fans at the game, a cohort far smaller than the 2,000 supporters who regularly turn up to watch the team at their home in Oriel Park.

The game wasn’t televised, and Scannell remembers thinking it was an “awful shame that so many people can’t see this game at all”.

“So I started wondering: what would you have to do to make covering this game on TV viable?” he said.

On his journey to answering that question, Scannell, a Galway native with decades of experience in the television industry, has now founded his own company which claims to reduce the cost and human capital required to broadcast live events.

Arama, a spin-out of Trinity College Dublin, wants to use its combination of algorithm-based video technology and human expertise to cover events such as football matches.

“We take a defined space, like a pitch, and we map it out with our cameras,” Scannell said.

“Then we train our algorithm to follow what’s important. We can take all these big wide shots from the area and select areas of interest which are then transmitted back to base for a director to choose from.”

Other companies also offer technical solutions to reduce the manpower involved in outside broadcasting, but Arama believes its selling point is the combination of AI and human knowledge it uses to show things live.

“We are deliberately marketing ourselves at broadcasters,” Scannell said. “The future of broadcasting is live: platforms like Netflix have all but taken over the drama and movie space. In the future, all of those will be given directly to consumers. So that’ll leave broadcasters with news, live events and sport.”

The firm’s technology was developed with the help of Anil Kokaram, the Trinity engineering professor known for his Oscar-winning video and audio restoration technologies.

It has attracted significant interest from broadcasters and has established trial partnerships with Premier Sports and RTÉ.

“We’re starting with Premier Sport and RTÉ Sport, and in time we want to graduate to working with Eleven Sports and Sky Sports,” Scannell said.

To that end, the Enterprise Ireland-backed firm has already raised €330,000 in seed funding and is targeting a further €700,000 investment in the coming months. It is aiming to grow its headcount from five to 50 in the next few years.

For now, Arama is focusing on ensuring the success of its trials, and “making sure our technology doesn’t fall over”, Scannell said. “We want to show investors that we’re not a risky bet for investment.”

In the long run, however, Arama believes it can allow the world’s biggest broadcasters to cover far more football matches, and later hopes to move into other live events.

“We’re going to allow these companies to broadcast games for €5,000, rather than €40,000,” Scannell said. “And if we can get 5,000 of those games a year for the next five years, we’ll have a business worth €150 million. And that’s just football.”

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