Skip to main content

Useful, and also fun

What, nothing about post-election online coverage? Yes, breaking a pattern that has held true for three of the last four weeks, Common Ground is now an official politics-free zone.

Instead, I'd like to tell you about two incredibly useful Web sites. One may help you monetize your newsgathering efforts, and the other just may tell programmers why a former ratings-winner has slid in ratings and popularity. ( keeps viewers informed about subjects they're interested in that have may been mentioned within newscasts. Here's how it works.

A user goes to the site and fills out a brief form listing the keyword or keyphrase they are most interested in, along with their e-mail address. Users can specify mentions by entering a "search string," such as "repair" and "frauds."'s word-recognition software then monitors the closed-captioned text of broadcasts on such outlets as CNNfn, CNBC, Bloomberg Television, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX News, CSPAN, ESPN and several public television stations.

When a word or keyphrase that a user has indicated is mentioned within a monitored broadcast, the user receives an e-mail, noting that, indeed, their term or terms of interest were mentioned. The e-mail includes a brief transcript of what was said, along with a link to the broadcaster's site or even a specific program page that may, in turn, include instructions on how to purchase a full transcript or video copy of the show.

In the middle of last week, the most popular transcript request term was "Florida recount." Oops, we promised! OK, some of the non-political
terms in's top 10 were "Microsoft," "Britney Spears," "Mideast violence" and "Strong buy."

Not much commonality there. I mean, how many Britney Spears fans are interested in the seemingly endless cycle of violence in the Middle East, or in stock tips? Yet, it is easy to spin this non sequitur to the conclusion that's service, called TV Alert, has broad appeal.

On the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 6, I tried it out, and was quite impressed. I entered "Microsoft" and my personal e-mail address into the appropriate boxes on the sign-up page.

Ten minutes later, I received my first TV Alert-that the term "Microsoft" was spoken during NBC's Today
show. A very brief text excerpt followed, which included a link to a page with a longer extract. That page, in turn, had a link to, which, in turn, offers a link to a page of info about Today. supports itself by advertising on search-results pages, as well as a couple of fee-based services that let broadcasters know when certain words are mentioned on their own, or competitors', broadcasts, and notify investors when the names of specific companies are cited on the networks and stations the service monitors.

Financial television is hot, but what about offerings that are past their prime? If you are a programmer, you may be scratching your head about why that former winner is now in the middle of the pack. Surely, you've commissioned focus groups to diagnose the problem. You may even have tried to fix it by not renewing a bit player's contract, telling the scriptwriters to change the story arc.

On the Web site

"Jump the Shark" (, fans and former fans vote to quantify the moment that the show turned sour.

"Jump The Shark" might not be as scientific as a focus group, but it's far more no-holds-barred. Currently airing shows on the Shark's Vote Getter List include The Simpsons, The X-Files, Friends, Buffy The Vampire Slayer
and Ally McBeal.

Show loyalists can cast their votes for specific turning-sour landmarks, or even maintain that the show is as good as ever. For the record, the most mentioned turning-sour point for The X-Files
was The Movie
-presumably on the defensible premise that the cinematic version resolved too many of the show's hanging plots.

For Friends,
one of the episodes that most turned off fans is listed as "They Did It (Ross and Rachel)." Much to some of their fans later regret, not to mention Ross and Rachel's.

Russell Shaw's column about Internet and interactive issues appears regularly. He can be reached at