November 29, 2004 4:00 AM PST

Striking up digital video search

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content, media executives say. Already interactive programming guide makers have moved to make search more advanced, and companies like Comcast are beginning to sign up for those services. Comcast recently inked a partnership with Microsoft's ITV division to use its interactive programming guides.

For Google, Yahoo and even AOL, offering searchable video is an extremely attractive new market because it not only keeps them relevant to consumers hungry for multimedia, but it helps them appeal to brand advertisers, which spend about $60 billion annually on commercials. Major TV advertisers are comfortable with the effects of commercials, and they're likely to wake up to Internet opportunities once on-demand video is ubiquitous.

Still, navigating the complexities of broadcast will likely be a significant challenge for Google and others in search. Business models for broadcasters online vary widely, and securing broadcasting rights over broadband could be sticky.

For example, if Google and Yahoo want to host and play video from their Web sites they must clear those digital rights with broadcasters. And broadcasters themselves must secure Internet rights with actors, producers and musicians, as well as clear spectrum signal rights with affiliates.

Being careful of existing business models is an issue, too. For example, CBS News offers video for free online, while ABC News offers subscription and paid video services for the likes of AOL and SBC Yahoo. CBS may want to boost traffic in order to sell advertising, but ABC may want to promote its subscription services via video search.

Search technology also must make vast improvements in order to find relevant audio and video. Currently a Web surfer inputs a search query into an engine to receive thousands upon thousands of results, and most people abandon the site if they don't find what they're looking for in the first 10 listings. But with clips of audio and video, that discernment will only increase, because each clip might be 15 seconds to several minutes.

The Goog tube
Google's project for TV search is ultra-secretive; only a handful of broadcast executives have seen it demonstrated so far. To build the service, the company is recording live TV shows and indexing the related closed-caption text of the programming. It uses the text to identify themes, concepts and relevant keywords for video so they can be triggers for searching.

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