Firms Large and Small Labor to Refine Video Search

By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2007

Type Hillary Clinton's name into one of the big online video search engines -- Google's, Yahoo's or AOL's -- and the official "I'm in" clip that announced her candidacy for president is not among the top results.

The popularity of sites like YouTube and the widespread rollout of high-speed Internet connections have accelerated video's presence on the Web. Yet the sophistication of a search engine's ability to find video is reminiscent of the Web's early days, when text search was clunky and largely incomplete.

Even Google, the company that has become synonymous with Internet search, is having a tough time sorting out its video strategy. Some say that its $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube last year acknowledged a weak strategy.

Yesterday, the company unveiled a new video search strategy that would use the strengths of the two sites -- YouTube with its video posting and sharing capabilities and Google with its strong search technology. Users who search for a video on Google Video will now find YouTube content in those results. Google Video plans to incorporate clips from other sites, as well.

Still, there's no guarantee that Google's approach is the right one, leaving a number of firms in search of the winning formula -- and the potential financial windfall for the company that can figure it out.

"There's a huge, incredibly obvious problem here and no really good solutions," said Josh Bernoff, principal analyst at Forrester Research, who wrote a report, "Online Video Portals: Why Video Search Stinks," last fall. "There's billions of dollars to be made."

If done well, video search could open up a new market of online advertising or sales, analysts say. Today, some companies are using video search as a platform to sell banner or text ads placed next to the video clip. Others are experimenting with video clips as a way of pushing sales of downloadable or streaming TV shows. Clips that become popular on the Web are even generating interest among corporate sponsors that want to be associated with them.

Eventually, online video search will be the way consumers access on-demand video programming on their TV sets, some analysts say.

"The key point to understand is that Internet video is going to go to the television," said Phil Leigh, founder and principal analyst of Inside Digital Media, a digital media market research firm. "All of us are going to use the [Internet] search tool to find what we want to watch" on TV.

For now, Google plans to leave YouTube as its own host of user-generated content, as well as sponsored content placed there by movie studios, TV networks and music record labels. Both YouTube and Google Video will focus on generating money from online ads, but it's unclear whether those will be primarily text ads, banner ads or video ads.

"There are lots of different monetization opportunities that will evolve over time. We are most focused on advertising," said David Eun, Google's vice president of content partnerships. "That doesn't mean people won't discover and use YouTube as a promotional platform to see a clip of a fantastic TV show, go to Web site of the owner and end up buying the DVD. We hope that happens."

Other big Internet firms such as Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft are trying to enhance their video search functions or purchase smaller firms to help them.

A number of start-up companies are trying to tackle the problem and have made strides in raising cash and attracting customers.

Privately held, for example, has signed up some news organizations as customers. PodZinger, which started as a search engine for podcasts, added a search engine for videos and raised $5 million last year.

But unlike text, scouring the Web for the right lineup of video search results is technologically tougher.

One process involves scanning words, such as captions, titles or short descriptions written by the person who uploads the clip to the Web. A more sophisticated approach adapts speech recognition technology to the words spoken in a video to find the best matches.

Some firms are experimenting with image scanning technology to recognize content in the video clip. Others, such as Blinkx, are experimenting with facial-recognition technology that would match videos of well-known faces, such as celebrities and politicians, to help categorize them.

But those advanced technologies are still in their early stages and won't be ready for at least another year or two, said Suranga Chandratillake, Blinkx founder and chief technology officer.

"We are in the very early days of not just online video search, but online video," he said.

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