AOL Search Sings a Little More Brightly

America Online is expected to announce Wednesday its acquisition of search firm Singingfish and the launch of multi-media searching capabilities for its AOL Search, including the ability to search for audio and video.

The new search features will enable AOL users to turn up both AOL-exclusive content and media files, including streaming media, throughout the Web.

Singingfish claims it has the largest index of multi-media content, and in August announced that it had added the ability to find files in Macromedia’s Flash format.

Explaining the acquisition, AOL referenced a July 2003 Arbitron study that reported about 50 million Americans had consumed Internet-based audio or video in the previous month. It recently enhanced its [email protected] on-demand video service. Meanwhile, it said, over 75 percent of its dialup and broadband customers use AOL Search each month, with high-speed customers using it more often.

Seattle, Wash.-based Singingfish provides multi-media search to Microsoft and RealNetworks for the Windows Media Player and the RealOne Player respectively. It also operates its own search destination, and in October announced that it was handling more than 3 million queries a day.

AOL did not release specifics on how the company would operate following the acquisition, but there’s clearly synergy, said Kevin Lee, CEO of search engine optimization firm “One of the biggest owners of media is Time Warner, and they’re certainly interested in making sure their own media is findable,” he said. “Even if they just deploying Singingfish on the AOL network, it’s big enough that most people would find the stuff they’re looking for.”

Singingfish has a paid inclusion program, but Lee said, “There aren’t a whole lot of publishers that would be an appropriate fit for this.” He said music download services such as Napster or iTunes would be the best fit. But that could change, according to Lee. “They’re looking to the future, to where the Web will be a lot more than just textual assets.”

Singingfish CEO Karen Howe will have to change Lee’s mind — and that of plenty of other advertisers and agencies. She aims to entice them to create special streaming media ads to be included in search results, a capability she believes no one else has. “Envision being able to [search for] ‘BMW’ and having a choice as an end user of looking at pictures, reading the brochure, or, I can get really engaged by watching video of this car going through some amazing motions with Madonna playing in the background,” Howe said.

She said that streaming media ads would be appropriate for many products with longer consideration cycles, including cars, pharmaceuticals and travel. They’d also work well for product demonstrations, and Howe envisions streaming how-tos replacing customer service call centers to an extent. “The beauty of it is that AOL has literally thousands of advertisers,” Howe said, “and many of them may have content we could leverage into the search index via paid listings.”

Howe said that Singingfish will take the lead on working with advertisers to create paid listing streams. She said her company’s relationships with MSN and Real are long-term and wouldn’t change due to the acquisition. “Any major company has a series of co-opetition deals,” she said.

AOL, a subsidiary of Time Warner , also introduced a preview version of its personalized “In Your Area” feature for AOL Search that highlights local businesses, entertainment and events. Searches include results from AOL Yellow Pages, AOL City Guide and Moviefone, as well as Google listings and special packages created by AOL editors. Relevancy is based on zip code information obtained from users during registration; searches can be modified to use other zip codes.

AOL’s launch of this feature follows the launch of local or regional targeting of search results by Google and Yahoo! Overture Systems, now owned by Yahoo!, has said it will follow suit in the next few months.

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