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MeeVee: Putting The P in TV

UPDATED: MeeVee, a provider of search and personalization technologies focused on broadcast content, launched a beta television search site for consumers.

Meevee.com, which went live on Monday, offers a free search service and incorporates personal recommendations, customized program guides and TV planning tools for would-be couch potatoes. In other words, the site embodies three hot trends in search: verticalization, personalization and what's known as prospective -- or persistent -- search.

Michael Raneri, chief marketing officer for Burlingame, Calif.-based MeeVee, said his company's service works better than that provided by the major search portals, because the technology is specially tuned to this vertical category. MSN, Google , Yahoo , AOL's SingingFish and Blinkx also offer various forms of search for video and/or TV content.

There's quite a bit of opportunity for vertical search players like MeeVee, according to Forrester analyst Charlene Li.

"As people get more sophisticated in their use of the Internet, they tend to want more specialized or more detailed information," she said, pointing to the tabs appearing on the sites of the major search services as indications of this trend. But Li said that some of them, and especially video, need different search technology.

MeeVee touts its TV-native technology as superior. "The other search engines are formidable, but they come at it using Internet search technology to assign relevance," Raneri said. "On our engine, the TV shows come up. It's optimized for the use case of someone looking for television to watch."

Users can search by show title, keyword, cast member, genre or other characteristics.

The service offers several personalization features. Listings are based on what's showing in the user's local area via broadcast television or cable. Site users can add shows to a personal planner, which can be e-mailed to them. If they rate shows on the site, they can opt to receive recommendations for other shows they might like.

Personalization will drive consumers' use of search services across all kinds of search, said Li, and it's especially helpful in vertical search services, where the data tends to be more structured.

"Personalization can be as simple as seeing results in a very specific way," Li said. "Or it can involve only showing stuff within my parameters. More advanced is, 'Remember what I clicked on and found relevant? Only show me stuff that's similar and relevant in the same way.'"

Prospective search lets users find TV that hasn't happened yet. In addition to searching current listings, MeeVee.com users can sign up for alerts when a show meeting one of their criteria is scheduled. Raneri said this prospective search function is another differentiator between his product and other video or television search offerings.

"Most search engines use technology to find video clips and content already stored on the Internet. They're looking for content that already exists in history; they don't allow you to find video clips and content that has yet to be broadcast," he said.

MeeVee receives guide listings in advance, and it taps into resources from network production companies. While a traditional search engine might take as many as a few days to add a new program to its searchable index, Raneri said his technology can send an alert within a half hour of when the information becomes available.

MeeVee was formerly MyDTV, a startup founded in 2000 to provide advertising and personalization technology to broadcasters and cable companies. It offered PromoLogic, an application that lets cable broadcasters target promotions to specific audiences via a TV version of the pop-up ad. Users can click on the promo pop-up to be taken to that program, or stay with what they were already watching.

Raneri said contextually targeted advertising also is part of the MeeVee.com offering.

"Vertical search, from a practical standpoint, is about the only way to enter the market," said Kelsey Group analyst Greg Sterling. "The majors have the general search market locked up."

An advantage of mining a niche like TV search, he said, is that it creates a more targeted audience for advertisers.

"You're delivering a certain demographic profile or kind of consumer to an advertiser."

MyDTV also offered TV Agent, a function now called a Personal Navigation System; it's the technology that brings keyword search to bear on television listings.

Under a deal between MeeVee and NBC, the network will make video clips of its programs accessible to site visitors. MeeVee boasts around 300 such content deals, such as the 2002 agreements with Bloomberg Television and TechTV to distribute personalized Web content. Its "media ingestion system" accepts digital information via Beta videotape, satellite uplinks and FTP.

MeeVee.com will be supported by sponsorships, e-commerce and advertising. The Kelsey Group forecasts that local search revenue will grow from $162 million in 2004 to $3.4 billion by 2009. But that's only a bit of the business plan, according to Raneri. The company hopes to use the consumer TV portal as an edge for its original genesis as a technology provider to the industry.

MeeVee engineers are using Microsoft's Windows Media Server developers' toolkit to build integration with personal video recorders (PVRs) into the site.

In the 1.5 release, expected in September, users will get a "click-to-record" function: They can program their PVRs to record a program by clicking on a box next to its MeeVee.com listing. They will be able to manage some of the Windows Media Center capabilities through MeeVee, as well. While many TVs and PVRs are connected via a home network, Raneri said, "Being able to communicate with the devices through a Web site is much easier."

With two new patents in hand covering its methods of creating metadata about shows and keyword matching, MeeVee hopes to license its TV search technology to other search providers, as well as set-top box manufacturers and cable broadcasters.

Said Raneri, "We think once we have a bit of a brand established and some users online, that gives us the opportunity to get traction in integrating with some of the set-top boxes out there and with the PVR capabilities [offered by the cable network operators]."