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blinkx adds web TV to video search

Video search engine Blinkx has been around for a while now – we first wrote about them when they launched back in 2004.

Over the years the site - which was founded in Cambridge, listed on the London stock exchange and is now based in San Francisco – has built a pretty successful niche out of its clever search techniques like speech recognition, without ever becoming one of those ubiquitous internet brands.

Now it looks like they could be making a break for household name status with their new product - their own spin on internet TV.

The idea’s pretty straightforward: if you want to get a quick fix of the latest news or watch the most popular viral videos, just click a button and sit back. Does it stack up?

You get three options: “inform me” (news), “entertain me” (mainly user-generated videos) and “give me my own channel”. Clicking on the first two gives you a pre-generated playlist of videos that you can watch, mimicking or one of those late-night Channel 4 clip shows (such as The 10,000 Greatest YouTube Videos EVER!!!).

Watching the beta this afternoon, my news bulletin consisted of (in this order) entertainment news, Afghanistan, the Pope, US politics and business, a story about allegations of cruelty to elephants in circuses and then something about Pink Panther 2.

Oh, and then I was treated to a voiceover-less film from Reuters which appeared to be about a massive cream pie fight. That was weird.

Your automatic playlist is refreshed every half hour or so to keep up with new stuff, and there are a multitude of little tricks to help you navigate around: like making your own channel using keywords, plus some very clever deep searching techniques, speech recognition, face tracking and recommendation.

But isn’t it taking away from the site’s core business of video search? When I spoke to CEO Suranga Chandratillake about it, he said that the new service was aimed at a subset of existing Blinkx users - but that it also has the potential to break out.

“There’s somewhere between 10 and 25% of our audience that basically turns up at our site and is looking for something interesting to watch,” he said. “It’s really that person we’ve aimed this at - and if you look at what this person clicks on, they’ll typically either click on something goofy or they’ll click on news content.”

“That’s what we’ve really aimed at: if you don’t know what to do, click here and you’ll see funny stuff or you’ll see interesting stuff. You don’t have to think about it any further.”

It’s certainly pleasant to use and the search features are intriguing - even if the quality of the videos themselves isn’t always up to much. But the web TV space is getting very crowded at the moment, with Hulu, iPlayer, Joost, YouTube and others. Is compiling the best of the web really what people want to see? In fact, he suggested, was actually a lot closer to the original idea for Blinkx than it might seem.

“When we first launched the site, we called it Blinkx TV,” he said. “We lost that branding about three years ago, but part of the original vision was a TV for your computer. You couldn’t do it in those days because the technology wasn’t there, the content wasn’t there. Now they are.”