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I want my WebTV!
No, not the old Microsoft product. Video search is ready for prime time. Who will benefit?
October 5, 2005: 10:38 AM EDT
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money senior writer

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – Will TV be the next big thing for online search companies?

Google (Research), Yahoo! (Research) and AOL have all introduced video search functions within the past few months, technology that enables people to look for video clips from television shows as well as from user-created content such as blogs and podcasts.

In addition, the big search companies are also working more closely with entertainment firms to use the Internet as another method for viewing shows or specials in their entirety.

For example, in July, AOL, which like CNN/Money is owned by Time Warner (Research), streamed live broadcasts of the Live8 benefit concerts.

And last week, Google ran an exclusive free stream for four days of the entire premiere episode of the new comedy "Everybody Hates Chris," which airs on Viacom's (Research) UPN network.

These kinds of deals could mean a lucrative new stream of advertising revenue for the likes of Yahoo!, Google and AOL, which owns multimedia search firm Singingfish.

Yahoo! and Google already have been benefiting from contextual links. But if video search really takes off, that could lead to an even bigger boost in advertising, particularly from larger companies that have seen the value of television ads erode due to technology like TiVo (Research).

"A rich media ad could be worth more to an advertiser than a text ad -- it tends to be longer, more engaging and you can make the case for your brand in a more compelling fashion," said David Edwards, an analyst with American Technology Research.

The potential is even larger when you consider how much footage could be digitized for viewing online. In addition to old television broadcasts, tapes of things like speeches and college lectures could all wind up online and could have ads attached to them.

"You would think that video will be as profitable as text," said Gary Price, news editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, a research site focusing on online search. "There's a lot more content, be it from an entertainment perspective or research perspective."

Takeovers looming in video search?

The industry's biggest players will have to contend with competition from some scrappy upstarts, including private companies such as blinkx, Truveo and TVEyes.

Blinkx, which uses speech-recognition software to search video clips, unveiled a new service on Monday called my blinkx.tv, which lets users upload their own video content and create personal channels to view videos created about a particular topic.

That's not something that the major search firms can match.

"The big guys – Google, Yahoo!, AOL and MSN – can convert their massive traffic to video search traffic really easily. But we have unique technology," said Suranga Chandratillake, co-founder of blinkx.

But Greg Sterling, an analyst with Kelsey Group, an independent research and consulting firm that focuses on search, doesn't think the private companies will take the place of the established players.

He said that any company that does create a hot new technology will probably wind up getting bought. He pointed to Flickr, which developed a popular online photo file-sharing service and then sold out to Yahoo!.

"The end game for smaller players is an acquisition," said Sterling. "And it doesn't have to be by a Yahoo!, Google or MSN. The broadcast networks and cable companies will potentially become competitive in this area."

There were rumors in August that News Corp (Research). was interested in acquiring blinkx, for example.

"It will be hard for a startup to become a first destination for consumers to go to but they could become important technology within larger franchises," said Edwards. "As long as all the major search players develop or license good video search technology they will be the most popular places to go."

Sterling said that as more video content (from mainstream media as well as individual users) becomes available online, the key question will be who will reap the biggest rewards, the tech firms or entertainment companies. So that might make it more important for a media firm to own video search technology.

"Google is not going to get into the business of producing TV shows, but you will have people producing content that will be part of the archive to be searched. And then it all starts to get blurry," Sterling said. "Who will maintain the relationship with the viewer and capture the advertising dollars is critical."

Finally, another issue will be whether or not videos will be entirely free and supported by ads or if a pay-per-view model will sprout up. That also could lead entertainment firms to be more interested in acquiring video search companies.

"The ability to search video content could be an interesting application for media companies since they own the content. If they also own the search window, they can choose how to charge for it," Edwards said.

For more on personal technology, click here.

For a look at more Internet stocks, click here.

Analysts quoted in this story do not own shares of the companies mentioned and their firms have no investment banking relationships with the companies.

The reporter of this story owns shares of Time Warner through his company's 401(k) plan.


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