Service sniffs out timely must-see TV

Mark Phillip never wants to miss an instant classic.

That's why he started up Are You Watching This?!, a service that alerts sports fans to games in progress that you don't want to miss out on. Sign up, input which sports you're interested in, and the service will alert you with an e-mail or text message with the score, time left and channel you need to turn on for your specific cable or satellite provider.

Chrome and Firefox plug-ins are also available, as are apps for Android, Palm and the iPhone.

Earlier this year, the service's technology -- referred to as RUWTbot -- achieved the ability to factor rivalries into its algorithms, taking it up another notch.

I caught up with Phillip by phone Wednesday afternoon to discuss the site's ins and outs, as well as what's in store for the future.

Are You Watching This?! is about bringing the technology straight to viewers of the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, CFL, Arena football, WNBA, auto racing, soccer, college football, men's and women's college basketball, college baseball and college hockey.

Phillip: The goal for the site was never to have a million users online. The focus has always been getting it into the living room.

That's why the site has been kind of quiet for most of the years it's been around -- I've been trying to get to talk to the Comcasts, Direct TVs and Time Warners of the world -- because I see it kind of like the Red Zone Channel.

Except you're not looking at seven or eight NFL games on at one time, you're looking at 500 games some days in one day.

Let's say I'm watching "Braveheart" or "Bad Boys" for the 20th time. I can get little on-screen alerts that say "Hey, there's a no-hitter through seven" or "There's a game about to go into triple overtime, hit select," and I can change the channel right away.

Or if you're away on vacation for a few days, you can tell your DVR all the teams you like, all the sports you like, and it could automatically start recording when a good game comes on. So you come home and you have the last five minutes of a game, the bottom of the ninth of a perfect game … getting into the living room has always been the focus for me.

Of course, these clever tips on sports won't be free.

Phillip: I think the living room is where the subscription will come from. I see it as a $1-, $1.99-a-month fee so that you can make your DVR actually intelligent. With a system like RUWT, it can automatically pause the recording if there's a rain delay. It automatically extends the recording if it goes into extra innings.

You don't always have to be plugged in.

Phillip: It's the automated version of that buddy that calls you up on the phone screaming "You've got to turn on ESPN right now because there's a great game on!" Because instead of just watching one game, we watch every single game, every sport, every channel.

And for the folks that don't want to get bogged down with sports alerts, this is a technology that only bugs you when it's time to hustle to the couch. So you're not always checking scores; you're not always checking Twitter for what's going on. You can live your life, and we'll let you know when it's time to get to the TV.

A lot of my most passionate fans come to the site once, sign up and never come back again. And I'm fine with that.

The service is about letting you live your life, do what you need to do and will only bug you when there's an instant classic in the making.

A smarter system.

Phillip: When the site first started, it treated all the teams the same. But there are definitely games that the average sports fan looks out for more than others. You look at a Notre Dame-USC, Yankees-Red Sox, Duke-UNC -- those have certain characteristics that make it more interesting to sports fans. And that's the sort of thing that our engine could never really see.

The ability to pick up on what Yankees-Red Sox [means] took it a while to learn. Earlier this year, we flipped the switch on the ability of the site to learn rivalries. The more games it rates, the better it gets at rating. It starts to understand which teams have played exciting games against each other, which teams have histories, which teams are worth watching.

Google TV should help.

Phillip: It's been really hard. The Time Warners of the world don't move on startup time like I want them to. They move on Fortune 500 time, and their technology isn't open in the way we're all sort of used to, where you can build an app.

With Google TV, it's really the first device that's come out where I can really bring RUWT to this platform and have that holy-grail experience that I've wanted to have for a good three years now.

The big difference is that Google TV is going to run Android. Anyone that has built an Android app, you can run this app on the TV.

Once Google TV starts firing up, we'll be launching a Google TV-specific application that's meant for the living room and for your TV.

I'm starting to see other companies pop up in the space, and that's a great feeling. I applied for a patent on the technology, so I think that puts me in a good spot. But it's great to see that other companies are starting to realize that we're getting more and more games, more and more teams, more and more networks, and it's just hard to keep track of everything.

It's a problem that I'm working to solve, and it's great to see other folks are trying to solve it as well.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.