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Video Whizz

One of the UK’s latest and greatest exports is entrepreneur Suranga Chandratillake who, with his company blinkx, plans to be the Google equivalent of online video, says Andrew McCormick.

In the sunny California hills, a bit of British entrepreneurial spirit is thriving.  The entrepreneur is 30-year-old Suranga Chandratillake, and his company, blinkx, aims to do for online video what Google has done for websites - make them easy to find, while making money through advertising.  blinkx’s ambitious plans have recently moved up a gear with a bid for paid-search outfit Miva, which would pit the Cambridge graduate and his colleagues against the US search giants.

“In terms of personality we’re definitely British,” says blinkx founder and chief executive Chandratillake.  “We’re the only Silicon Valley firm that has a box of PG Tips next to an over-used kettle.”

Besides the odd trip to the vineyards and taking in a few gigs, a cup of tea is about the only time Chandratillake has had to relax since he set up blinkx in 2004.  After gaining a degree in computer science, he furthered his tech expertise at software firm Autonomy, before turning his attention to helping people find video content on the web.

“Commercially, we’re in a very important market,” he says.  “blinkx brings together all of the good things about TV, plus the accessibility of the internet.  The big problem is navigation.  People can put video up anywhere and anyone can watch it anywhere.  From the seed of that problem, I formed blinkx.”

Chandratillake’s previous employers obviously have faith in his ability: Autonomy has a 9.9% stake in blinkx and sits alongside JP Morgan and HBOS as a top ten shareholder.  After listing on London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market in August 2007, Chandratillake has been under pressure to satisfy the high expectations of the City.

“When we first listed it piled on the responsibility,” he says.  “I now have to take stock and explain everything to investors, but day to day I still work closely with the technology and product teams.”

The latest from blinkx is an online remote control, which aims to make it easy to find TV content online.  The tagline for blinkx’s new development is ‘Make your TV jealous’.  It’s not quite doing that yet though.

blinkx’s future does not rest on the success of its latest launch.  More important is AdHoc, its ad system that can identify the audio from videos people are watching and deliver relevant ads.  Chandratillake is not more involved on the commercial side, though he says it hasn’t come easy.

“The commercial side was something I knew less about,” he says.  “So we hired Federico Grosso, senior vice-president, business development from Yahoo!, and he has taught me a lot.”

Chandratillake defines blinkx as a media company dependent on technology.  Having personally developed the technology, he is now engineering the commercial charge.  News reports speculating that Google and News Corp were preparing bids for blinkx have so far proved wide of the mark.  But it surprised no one and provided a strong indicator that blinkx could be the next big British internet success story.