Sports has been trying to wrap its head around social data for awhile. Until recently, attempts were tentative to say the least. Leveraging this content to connect fans to chat and sharing integrations with online fantasy leagues have been popular, but for the most part these efforts make it look like the industry is uncertain what exactly to rally its social efforts around.
RUWT might have the answer. The five and a half year old startup (currently available for Android or on the Web) is a one man show run by Mark Phillip who describes himself as a “life-long geek and Yankees fan.” RUWT (which stands for “Are you watching this?!”) is an application built on an algorithm that determines when games get exciting and personalizes this content to its users. You then get alerts to your phone or email when a game gets exciting. Sports addicts (myself included) understand the need to deal with the sheer amount of games that deserve our attention, and that’s what RUWT wants to do.
In the age of the algorithm, it’s important to clarify how it works – which is exactly what I asked Phillip at SXSW this week. “We have this objective engine that treats all the games the same, but we have subjective fans that complement it,” he says. Everything that powers this engine is done manually; games are voted up on Reddit or Digg or similar sites. He explains that an upset is something a user would get notified about – and the degree of that upset is always taken into consideration. Philip offers me a for-instance that NBA fans everywhere can appreciate: a few years ago the Clippers were beating the Lakers after the former team hadn’t had a win in a month. “That went huge on RUWT,” he says.
Phenomena like Jeremy Lin’s breakout and Lebron James’ move to Miami are also the types of news that RUWT alerts its users about. The curation process is built on the backs of RUWT’s “super fans,” as Phillip refers to his users.
“I take this objective engine, these subjective fans, package it up and try to sell it to companies like Time Warner and Comcast,” he says. “This might sound crazy coming from a startup, but I don’t want RUWT to be a household name.”
Sound crazy it does. After a week of being inundated with the next-big-everythings, it’s startling and refreshing to hear how Phillip plans to make RUWT a success: by not making a play for platform status. The company recently released its data services API and wants to be woven into other brands for their own applications. “The goal of RUWT is to take the technology and help other properties put it into their own application,” he says. It’s something of a novel idea when the startup app ecosystem is hell-bent on always being an application and never being a feature.
“People want to be the Myspace of sports, the Twitter of sports, the Foursquare of sports… but if you don’t have the signal underneath to power it then it gets too noisy,” Phillip explains. RUWT’s first customer was Sporting News, and Philip says his company’s second customer (so far unannounced) is “very large and will be using the technology in their app wrapped in their own branding.”
Perhaps part of the remaining disconnect between social and sports is TV. Sports is the reason so many of us have had withdrawals from cable, or can’t bring ourselves to cut the cord entirely. Cable has a stranglehold on sports broadcasting, and we’re victims to it. We’re also held captive by live television. “To quote Mark Cuban, ‘sports is the most DVR-resistant genre on TV,’” says Phillip.
“I hope it’s a win-win for cable companies and for users: They keep more users and users can feel like they have what they when they turn on the TV thanks to better curation.”
RUWT currently integrates with TiVo, Direct TV, and Google TV receivers. The app connects to the box and then you can remotely change the channel to the games you’ve been notified about. And he isn’t only talking about partnering for sports notifications: Phillip sees RUWT moving beyond sports into other genres. Of course, all of the holdup in the Internet TV market has make things sort of muddled for where RUWT’s integration with the devices goes from here.
“The question is how many platforms are we going to have?” says Phillip. “Everyone’s making their own. I worry there will be fragmentation. And I thought Google would run the show but they’ve sort of stumbled out of the gate and now other companies are nervous.” But he says as the connected living room improves and smartphones get better at connecting to them, content providers will continue to notice that we have so much content that needs to be curated.