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Volume 21 No. 34
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Plugged In: Mark Phillip, Are You Watching This

There is a detailed science behind the notion of a can’t-miss game or event, thanks in part to Mark Phillip, founder of Austin-based Are You Watching This. The company, known as RUWT?! for short, has developed a series of patented excitement ratings that measure in real-time how compelling a live sporting event is. Those ratings in turn serve as the foundation of a fast-growing data licensing business that includes partnerships with Turner Sports and Sportradar, among others. Despite sports technology serving as a red-hot target for venture capital investments, Phillip notably self-funded his company, maxing out several credit cards along the way.

These legacy cable set-top boxes make me want to smash my remote on a daily basis.

On the changing nature of the current sports fan: Choice, choice, choice. I now know more people that use OTT services to watch live sports than people that buy seasonlong passes like NFL Sunday Ticket, and that feels like a really important inflection point. The viewing appetite is still there for sports fans, and it’s not going anywhere. The key focus should be on how we can improve the game discovery experience to be as entertaining and frictionless as watching Netflix and YouTube and Hulu. The first time I used YouTube TV it took my breath away.

On the value proposition of RUWT?! to programmers and distributors: Our value prop is all about curation and discovery. If we can increase the percentage of channels that is in the customer’s general cycle from the standard 10 percent to something like 30-40 percent, then we can squash the customer feeling of overpaying for the content that they actually consume. Until then, we’re going to continue to see lower-margin OTT services swell and continued subscriber loss from the establishment MSOs.

On the tech scene in Austin: There’s no city in the U.S. I’d rather run my company. You have this wild juxtaposition of a fiercely liberal town set on a conservative backdrop, and that friction creates a spark that much of the town’s creative fire comes from. You see it in the food, the nightlife, the music and even the types of companies built in this town. Cost-of-living has increased, but it’s still affordable, and I can hop on a flight and get to any of our U.S. customers in 3.5 hours. All that being said, we’re far from perfect. Austin is the least racially diverse metro area in the state of Texas and we’re the most socioeconomically segregated area in the country. That’s why I try to be an active mentor as much as I can.

On refusing to take venture capital money: It sure wasn’t from a lack of trying! We were just too early. The market and the platforms just weren’t fertile enough yet. The benefit is that it forced RUWT?! to become an ultra-efficient company with a self-reliant infrastructure, and a balance sheet in the black long before our Excitement Analytics patent got granted. It would’ve been nice to have a Series A funded by someone other than Chase, American Express and anyone else crazy enough to give me a credit card, but the company is better for it.

                                                                                                                            — Eric Fisher