Video search takes off as content floods the web
Video search is widely tipped as the next digital market poised for a big take-off and the reason is simple: finding TV content quickly and efficiently will become increasingly important as the TV, internet and mobile devices share content more easily.
Google dominates the text search business but when it comes to video search, the company has been hit with more lawsuits than plaudits as it tries to organise the world’s video in the same way it has cornered text information.
Google, along with rivals including Yahoo and Ask.com, is busily upgrading its main search service to offer multimedia results, including video from existing Google news, books and maps sections as well as YouTube, the video-sharing service it bought for $1.65bn in 2006.
There is clearly a big and growing market at stake: the online advertising market is estimated by Microsoft to be worth $40bn today. Microsoft recently ramped up its own MSN video service to counter Google, and both Google and Microsoft have spent billions buying online advertising firms to help give value to search results by adding targeted advertising, both for traditional text searches and, increasingly, video searches.
Rising broadband penetrations have driven demand for video from consumers, and media owners have had to respond or see their content stolen by peer-to-peer sharing sites. But according to David Gillies, director of technology at Pace Micro Technology: “For the time being, definitive search systems and business models are yet to emerge.”
Meanwhile, how video is “discovered” is also evolving. For example, Google searches video using titles and descriptions provided by content owners; this is the so-called metadata associated with a piece of content rather than an analysis of the video and accompanying audio itself. Some newer search services like Blinkx have technology that tag and then scan content scene by scene using advanced voice recognition software to analyse accompanying soundtracks. Still others, like ChaCha, use a process involving the recruitment of thousands of human guides who identify content on behalf of users, similar to how Wikipedia allows anyone to edit a wiki entry.
“At one end of the spectrum is high value content - big TV shows and movies which you can already search for easily by title, transmission or release date,” says Blinkx chief executive officer Suranga Chandratillake.
“At the other is the long tail of usergenerated content for which video search works well but [where] advertising revenue potential is more limited because the environment is less predictable.”
Blinkx has decided to focus on what Chandratillake calls “the bit in the middle” - professionally produced content that the company believes will be popular and can be searched by topic.
An interesting trend in video search is how internet search engines might be integrated with, or even compete with, TV on-screen electronic programme guides (EPG). “[The guides] were designed around linear channels existing in a broadcast TV environment,” says Gerry O’Sullivan, director of strategic product development at pay TV company BSkyB. What people want
Sky has already designed an online EPG for its Sky Anytime service that covers TV, PC and mobile Sky services. “While I don’t think services such as ours will replace the EPG on TV for a while, eventually when you can view video from the internet on your TV set, we will subsume the EPG,” says O’Sullivan.
Online information sources like the Internet Movie database (imdb.com) are changing the way people expect to find content, which is forcing the TV EPG is become more flexible and interactive. “We are learning online what people want to search in content and applying this to the TV experience,” says O’Sullivan.
These are lessons that are shaping a new EPG for Sky HDTV customers launching later this year. “Already we create tags from a number of sources and our aim is to incorporate finer details taken from production notes to offer a comprehensive IMDB-style experience.”
The TV EPG may not be dead but it is certainly evolving fast and the online search giants are clearly going to be a big part of how video is discovered across a variety of devices, including, but not limited to, TV screens.