The draw of sports rests entirely on the connection fans feel for the games. Technology takes conspicuous advantage of that. Round the clock sports channels, primetime broadcasts, and off-season replays of the season’s best contests feed a bottomless appetite for the biggest and best sports has to offer.
But television coverage is expensive. There are sponsors to court and equipment to maintain. There is staff to pay and travel to be factored in, and if a game is not likely to draw a large enough number of viewers, the math gets very simple. It just isn’t worth it to broadcast.
But on the Pajama Channels, the same rules don’t apply. Pajama Channels, a web-based live streaming video feed company owned by Sarnoff Corporation, could, in fact, liberate the more obscure, less TV-friendly contests high schools and colleges have to offer. Under the banner TeamWatch, Pajama Channels has launched a fully automated broadcasting system that it is marketing to schools looking to showcase contests TV viewers do not normally see.
The idea to broadcast sports events over the Internet is not new, even for schools. Princeton University, in fact, has been transmitting coverage on TigerZone for at least two years. The difference, however, is that, while programs such as TigerZone use footage shot by manned cameras, TeamWatch uses four permanently fixed cameras covering the entire field of play. One camera is trained on the scoreboard and the other three are positioned to take in the action from preset vantage points. It works like a line of security cameras mounted along a hallway. As you walk along, out of sight of one camera, the next picks up your image and transmits it to a remote television screen.
The idea is the brainchild of Pajama Channels president Vince Endres. Endres grew up in Glenolden, Pennsylvania, and Browns Mills, New Jersey, the fifth of six children. His father, a civil servant at Fort Monmouth, was an industrial specialist who supervised a couple of thousand people. His siblings are variously a patent attorney, a priest, a steam fitter, and an artist. He majored in business administration and computer science at Montclair State and earned his MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson in 1987 while working for the defense division of the Singer company. He and his family live in Morristown.
The idea itself stems from Sarnoff’s Pyramid Vision, a Sarnoff company launched in 1997 to market the three-faceted security camera system TeamWatch uses, which Endres oversees. Though developed as a program for the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, the hardware’s key distinction of following action as it shifts positions before multiple cameras and beaming it into a single source destination made it an obvious outlet for sports coverage within a fixed locale.
Endres had his a-ha moment while he was watching World Cup soccer: "I thought, `These cameramen must get really bored – all they do is pan back and forth.’"
As it dawned on him that pretty much all sports are covered with one main, panning camera and one or two others positioned for closeups of servers or goalies, another thought struck him – he was always missing parts of his children’s games because he couldn’t get home from work in time. The father of three elementary school athletes understood the frustration parents feel when they miss their kids’ games and reasoned that, at any age, parents would like to see their children on the court, the rink, or the field.
But not many colleges and certainly very few high schools have the means to broadcast games on TV, particularly from sports that television stations are loathe to air even when pros are playing. Volleyball, lacrosse, tennis, and, yes, even soccer are wildly popular games to play, but are not on any station’s radar screen for broadcast.
But with TeamWatch, he says, schools can broadcast whatever sport, whatever game they want and air it through a subscriber-based website whenever they want to show it.
The system is leased to schools for $200 a month. Subscription revenues, which depend on the size and scope of the system’s use, are on average $100 for an all-access pass. The money is split 50/50 between the school and Pajama Channels.
Endres says the setup becomes "a business in a box" for schools. They program the times and dates and let the machine – or, more accurately, Pajama Channels – do all the work. The company processes subscriptions, helps with ad sharing, and provides free upgrades as the technology improves. A major selling point, he says, is that viewers will never see the words "Pajama Channels" on the broadcasts. The program is designed for each school to brand their own broadcasts.
The niche, Endres says, is ultimately what Pajama Channels is after.
"We know we’ll never get Penn State football," he says, "but we might someday have Penn State volleyball." Given the fervor with which alumni and family keep up with any given school’s sports, Endres believes proud parents of junior college track stars or former Division III basketball players is a sizable enough market to keep interest going in games broadcast on TeamWatch.
So far, he says, word is getting around. Pajama Channels is in talks with about 50 high schools and colleges and has already installed its cameras at Fairleigh Dickinson University-Madison and at NJIT in Newark.
The future of TeamWatch, Endres says, will likely involve high-definition broadcasts and deals that allow schools to broadcast away games. Right now, only home games are viewable, since that is how cameras are mounted, but as more schools hook up, he says, away broadcasts could be worked out.
"I can certainly see a passionate parent watching a game with the same emotion as somebody watching the Super Bowl," he says. "As long as there is emotion connected to whatever event is going on, there is a market."
Pajama Channels, 201 Washington Road, Princeton 08543. Vince Endres, president. 609-734-2190. Home page: www.pajamachannels.com.