Play It, Google

Search goliath Google added moving pictures to its video search beta service on Monday.

Users can now watch video from within the browser via a special downloaded player — one that likely will enable pay-per-view in the future.

Google has broadened its searchable index to include much of the content that users have contributed via its Video Upload program. The service launched in January with stills from television shows.

But to watch video, users first have to download the Google Video Viewer, a free plug-in for Google video content only. (The plug-in works with the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers.)

Searchers with viewer-enabled browsers still will not be able to play the content in the index, but playable content will be highlighted in search results by an icon. Searchers can click on the icon and get a preview consisting of up to five stills to help them identify which part of the video they want to play.

If the video is annotated or transcribed, Google Video Search results will deliver the segment that contains the query word.

“For example, if you searched for ‘tulip,’ and that was said one-and-a-half minutes in, we can start you there,” said Peter Chane, senior product manager for Google Video.

Google’s Video Upload program asks content creators to include meta data or a transcript with the upload. Google uses the transcript or metadata to index the content.

While Google uses the closed captions provided by television broadcasters to index their shows, it must rely on information provided by independents to index their work. Chane wouldn’t say what percent of the content offered by independent producers included a transcript, but said, “We’re impressed by how many did.”

The Upload Program also allows producers to decide whether they want to allow free access to the content or set a fee for access. Chane wouldn’t comment about plans to eventually charge for some content. For now, video search results won’t include content with a price tag.

The viewer was built on VLC, the open-source multimedia player. Chane would not comment on whether Google needed to use a proprietary media player in order to institute pay-per-view in the future.

But Google has confirmed that it’s building an online payment system, and such a system could connect with the Google Video Viewer to let the search company charge users to watch, then share revenue with content creators.

Neither would Chane comment on whether Google Video would enable users to access audio files, such as MP3s.

But VLC plays files in MP3 format, as well as DVD, and it supports several streaming protocols. Therefore, unless Google has stripped out this functionality in its Viewer, it stands that it could extend the search and playback to other kinds of media.

Despite all the no-comments, Chane did leave the door open to further features, saying, “We’re always looking at new solutions to make search better.”

Stay tuned.

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