Major Internet sites are vying to become more like traditional media companies, setting up online clearinghouses for books, television, music and more in a bid to lure viewers.
Today Lycos Inc., an early Internet search engine, plans to launch a technology to allow its U.S. users to self-publish video content on its site. Yesterday, Yahoo Inc. said it would spearhead the Open Content Alliance, a group of companies and organizations hoping to negotiate rights to put billions of works online.
These efforts join a broader push by Internet companies to channel the offline media world into an online one by sweeping up everything from obscure scientific research papers to famous rock videos. Driven by the growth of high-speed Internet subscribers, companies have turned from offering basic services such as e-mail and search to trying to create an ever more powerful database of knowledge and commerce, culling media from everywhere.
"It seems like everybody's trying to be a media company -- Yahoo, Google and AOL in particular," said Patrick Mahoney, an analyst with the Yankee Group. "They're trying to extend their reach and time people spend on their sites."
Last week, search-engine giant Google Inc. launched a service on Google Video allowing users to view streaming replays of the premiere of UPN's comedy "Everybody Hates Chris." America Online Inc., despite its access to the vast content of parent company Time Warner Inc., had not made a splash in the online media world until July, when it aired coverage of the international Live 8 concert series. It now also offers XM Satellite Radio feeds, as well as videos of live concerts through a joint venture called Network Live.
"It's more than just about searching for things. . . . Our role is to help users find or discover the best in video" and to generate original content that drives new viewers to the site, said Jim Bankoff, executive vice president for AOL. The AOL.com site drew 5 million viewers the day of the Live 8 concerts and tens of millions more who logged on later to view the recorded events.
Although many such services are offered for free, the companies hope to parlay the viewership into sources of revenue, through advertising, promotions or sponsorships on their site. That process means siphoning viewers and money from television, cable, and other sources of news and entertainment.
To make it work, however, the companies must navigate a complex set of copyright and business issues.
Yahoo's content alliance includes Hewlett-Packard Labs, Adobe Systems Inc., the Internet Archive and universities, all of which will donate resources toward digitizing non-copyrighted works, starting with 18,000 works of American fiction from the University of California. The database will be available by the end of the year and will expand as the OCA negotiates with copyright holders.
"Our vision is to help users access more knowledge," said David Mandelbrot, vice president for search content for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo. He said Yahoo realized it would have to accommodate the interests of copyright holders, an issue that caused Google earlier this year to suspend its own efforts to scan and catalog printed texts.
Lycos's new video, photo and blog service, called Lycos Planet, will be directed primarily at its young audience of bloggers, who generate an active kind of grass-roots media.
"What we're trying to do is allow content providers of all magnitudes to come and publish [on our site] while maintaining ownership of their content," said Brian Kalinowski, chief operating officer of Waltham, Mass.-based Lycos.
Lycos, best known for its roots in the search business, is hoping to relaunch itself as a media company, eventually reaching out to self-publishing writers, artists and musicians, as well as major book publishers and entertainment studios to become a kind of Web-based studio for its 22 million-strong audience.