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blinkx signs up RealPlayer as battle for online video heats up

Blinkx, the internet video search engine, has signed a contract to provide search functionality for the new version of RealPlayer, a deal that will drive the number of searches it conducts every day well past its current four million.

Blinkx, which was spun out of information retrieval software developer Autonomy last month, has also launched a video advertising platform. The AdHoc platform, which is available immediately, will allow advertisers to accurately attach marketing material to the millions of hours of video content that consumers are watching every day.

Blinkx has signed a global partnership to integrate its video search technology into the new version of RealNetworks, the company behind the RealPlayer multimedia application that competes head-on with Microsoft’s Windows Media Player.

The new RealPlayer will enable users to search for content to download and store on their computers. Previous versions of RealPlayer have only had access to RealNetworks’ small library of video content but the deal with Blinkx will offer the media player’s users access to around 12 million hours of content.

Suranga Chandratillake, founder and chief executive of Blinkx, described the contract as a “huge syndication deal” with RealPlayer downloaded around one-and-a-half- million times a day. Although he said it would be hard to forecast what effect the deal would have on its search numbers, he was confident that it would prove a significant boost given RealNetworks has put “search at the centre” of its 11th incarnation of the video player.

Another benefit that Blinkx will derive from the RealPlayer deal is increased brand awareness as the term “powered by Blinkx” will appear next to the search box on the RealPlayer.

Mr Chandratillake added that the company’s recent deal with has already boosted the number of searches it conducts each day to four million compared to the 1.2 million it announced when it listed last month. The spike in usage illustrates the rapid growth in consumer interest in online video.

“Obviously there is going to be more and more video online but technologically it is quite challenging to search through it all. It is not the same as reading words off the page,” Mr Chandratillake said.

Blinkx provides the critical link between the consumer and the fragmented online content industry. Unlike other text-based technologies that use often misleading text tags attached to the descriptions of videos, Blinkx’s platform can comprehend what is in the video clip and thus deliver more accurate results to the user.

Mr Chandratillake said that people posting videos were able to exploit text-based search systems by putting tags such as “Paris Hilton” in the description, even though it has no relevance to the clip. “It’s the equivalent of video spam,” he said.

Given that Blinkx has the ability to more accurately search for relevant video content, the company has decided the time is ripe to launch AdHoc, a new platform that gives advertisers the ability to attach advertisements to online videos.

Mr Chandratillake said the platform would work particularly well in the context of the increasing amounts of do-it-yourself instructional videos appearing online as it could offer viewers the opportunity to buy the necessary products while watching the video.

However, he said the platform worked just as well in other contexts such as entertainment videos. For example, the technology can detect products used within feature films such as the brand of sunglasses worn by an actor or even exotic locations in the story and place-appropriate advertisements to match the content either before, during or after the film. Trials with James Bond films have already demonstrated the technology’s potential.

Mr Chandratillake said that such targeted advertising meant advertisers would not waste money on vague assumptions about who was watching a television show or visiting a web site. “AdHoc is about knowing who is watching the content and why, because they searched for it,” he said.

The Blinkx CEO said many companies were making significant commercial headway with text-based online advertising, most notably Google’s AdSense platform. However, he described video as the “next frontier” of the advertising market as it can provide “unrivalled relevance” by harnessing the burgeoning online video market.

The deal with RealNetworks, the surge in usage on the back of the Ask deal and the growth potential should help Blinkx share price recover some of the ground lost since its listing. Despite a 150 per cent surge in the share price on the day of the flotation, the stock has drifted back to 39p compared to a listing price of 45p. Mr Chandratillake dismissed the notion that the online video market, and Blinkx specifically, represented a return to dotcom euphoria.

“We’re much more of a technology company than a lot of the dotcom stars which were more about putting up a website and monitoring eyeballs. Investors have their feet on the ground when investing in tech stocks these days,” he said.