Will Video Search Pay Off?

Desktop search? That’s so last week. Multimedia search mania is in full swing.

Google made an uncharacteristically late entrance into the video search arena yesterday when it launched a beta version of its search tool. And just a night before, Yahoo, which
launched its own video search beta in December along with upstart Blinkx, made it accessible from the main page.

Search providers quickly followed the lead of Singingfish, an AOL
property that re-launched
its free multimedia search portal with a splash
on Dec. 1. But while video search is the latest must-have for search
leaders, the picture is unclear when it comes to whether there’s a business case or consumer demand.

Video search engines will compete for users by the type and quality of
results, which depends on the method used to turn video content into
searchable text.

There are three models for indexing and discovering relevant video content:
metadata, which Yahoo uses; text generated during the closed captioning process, which Yahoo and Google
use; and transcription-on-the-fly, carried out by Blinkx with technology from enterprise search player Autonomy.

At the same time, they’ll have to find business models to
support the service.

“Whether there’s a market for video search is an open question,” said
Forrester analyst Ted Schadler. “The answer depends on how quickly consumers
start surfing the Internet from where they watch television.”

He pointed out that most people don’t start planning the evening’s entertainment much before
they plop down on the couch, and that it would take some changes in user behavior
and living room gear for it to take off.

In order to search video from the couch, Schadler said, you’ll need a home
network and a laptop. According to recent Forrester research, only about 10 percent
of U.S. households have a home network, and only half of those have Wi-Fi; those
with Wi-Fi tend to have laptops at hand.

“Those folks will definitely be interested in video search,” he said. “Others
will be less interested.”

Google took a different tack from other video search services, which let users
actually watch clips. Google Video Search is squarely focused on television content, and
its pitch to broadcasters is that it can increase their audiences by giving users
information on future airings of relevant programs.

Jennifer Feikin, director of Google Video, emphasized that Google’s version is designed
to help users find TV shows they might want to watch. While searchers can
click on links in Google or Google News results to consume the actual content, the video
results lead to another page of results that include the same text snippet
and still, along with the next time the program will air.

“There’s a huge element of discovery,” Feikin said. “You’re trying to make sense
of the thousands of television programs out there, so you’re interested in a
particular topic and search on it. You may even find it’s a great program you’d
like to watch in the future.”

Feikin said the next iteration will include the ability to play the clips,
and that the company is interested in expanding beyond television. Speaking from the
National Association of Television Production Executives trade show, where Google
is an exhibitor, she said, “We’re very interested in working with content owners
to figure out ways to showcase their content.”

Blinkx, which released its own video search service in December, also aims its tool
at discovery of content. Blinkx’s “Smart Folders” automatically fill themselves
with related content from the desktop and, if set to do so, the Web. Co-founder
Suranga Chandratillake said this function could be combined with information on Web-based video.

“How do you alert them about information they don’t know they need? If you’re about to
write an article, for example, Blinkx can alert you to … new video.”

Chandratillake sees Blinkx’s future in new venues for multimedia search.
Version 2 will allow peer-to-peer searches across networks like Gnutella, Grokster
and eDonkey.

“Today, P2P is out stealing music, but not in the future. It will become
an easy sharing mechanism across networks,” he said.

Video search also has some traction — and a business model — in the B2B world.

This week, Yahoo announced its relationship with TVEyes, which will
give users access to searchable broadcast content from a variety of partners.
TVEyes has offered paid search of domestic and international broadcasts for six years.
It decided to enter the consumer market 18 months ago, according to CEO David Ives.

“Search engines are increasing in value as aggregation start points for
entertainment, news and sports,” Ives said.

While Yahoo was the first to announce
a partnership with TVEyes, Ives said he’s talking to other players.

“We believe the
search engines will be indexing all video over the next few years,” he said.

Ives sees potential in showing ads against video search results, and some agreements
are in place, although it’s not a part of the current offerings.

“Ultimately, we
believe that the 10- to 15-second video ad prior to a clip will come into play,”
he said.

In its Online Media Outlook Report, interactive media agency Avenue A/Razorfish
identified video as a growth area for 2005.

“[Last year] was the year consumers began to truly embrace video on the Web, and 2005
will be the year that advertisers follow,” wrote report author Jeff Lanctot, the
agency’s vice president of media.

Lanctot said that in addition to streaming video
ads themselves, advertisers will buy in-stream video ads, shown pre-roll or post-roll.
MSN has offered this format since early 2004 with its searchable MSN Video service.

Critical Mention, like TVEyes, is a paid subscription service that lets companies
monitor when they’re mentioned on broadcast television. Critical Mention’s three-year-old
service has about 100 clients, including Miller Brewing, Qualcomm, Prudential and Boeing.

“We alert clients to key words being
mentioned, and they can view it within moments of it being aired on TV,” said
Critical Mention CEO Sean Morgan.

Enterprises pay for the service, which also lets them save and e-mail clips, on
a per-seat basis. Critical Mention shares revenue with content producers if and when
their content is accessed. “Whoever gets viewed, gets paid,” Morgan said.

Critical Mention plans to deploy data centers in the top 200 U.S. markets by the
end of this year; then, it might consider working with broadcasters to make clips
searchable via all Internet search engines.

“When people come to watch the clip,
let’s play our broadcast advertisers’ commercials,” Morgan said.

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