Video Search Challenge

Feb 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

At nearly every industry conference or panel in the past few months, video search has emerged as the new hot topic as content multiplies on numerous platforms-broadband, traditional television, video-on-demand, mobile phones and iTunes. As delivery methods and programming grow at an exponential rate, the industry is seeking new means to navigate seamlessly through the content.

“Everybody is trying to figure out how to manage it,” said Andy Addis, executive VP of Hillcrest Labs, which enables navigation across devices using a visual interface. “In a world where content choice becomes limitless, navigation is at the end of the day going to separate the winner from the loser. If consumers can’t find this stuff, they don’t derive any value. If they don’t derive any value, they either downgrade, disconnect or take the box back.”

That’s why “video search” has become the new buzz phrase and has bubbled up quickly as a crucial issue for the TV business, in all its new and old media manifestations.

Telcos, cable operators, satellite providers, mobile phone companies and broadband channels are all now serving up gobs of content. But the advantage may lie not in volume of content, but rather in a meaningful way to sift through it.

Video search is a wide-open business, a true green field niche in the frantic new world of consumer-controlled TV. Every player has a slightly different approach to search. Among the companies attempting to crack the nut of video search are AOL, Google, Gemstar-TV Guide, Hillcrest Labs and MeeVee. There are others, of course, but their early work represents a good cross-section of approaches.

Here’s a look at how a handful of players are approaching this nascent business opportunity.

Hillcrest Labs

Hillcrest came on the scene at the Consumer Electronics Show and has been generating some industry buzz with its intuitive approach to search. Rather than using a standard remote control, Hillcrest’s content navigation system necessitates the use of a round, ring-like remote with only two buttons and a scroll wheel to zoom in and out of content options. It operates like a mouse and allows viewers to navigate through a visual interface. This navigation strategy is built on concepts popularized by Web sites such as Amazon and Netflix, which rely on browsing and recommendation.

Hillcrest’s system is designed to let users navigate all their content, such as VOD, linear TV or digital photos, in the same fashion. “You find a VOD movie the same way you find a CD or a song you want,” Mr. Addis said.

The system is intuitive, so it can guide viewers through content and also help them drill down to other, similar content, such as movies or shows with the same actor. The service, like Amazon.com, can suggest or recommend content. Hillcrest has pursued this visual approach because video search isn’t about looking up video content by a keyword, Mr. Addis said. “Consumers will not be inclined to sit back on their couch and lean forward and pick up a keyboard and say, ‘I don’t know what I want to watch tonight,'” he said.

That’s why the browse function is such a critical part of the navigation process, he said. Hillcrest is marketing its product to service providers, consumer electronics companies and PC makers.

AOL Video Search

AOL plans to launch a new version of its video search site this week now that it has integrated its existing search capabilities with those of its newly acquired video search service, Truveo. AOL’s approach is built on a pure search paradigm, but also enables browsing in AOL’s video library of more than 20,000 video assets.

Truveo’s technology searches content visually. While video search is its own animal, it draws comparisons with text search, because that’s the gold standard for consumers, said Kevin Conroy, executive VP for AOL Media Networks.

“There is an expectation in the marketplace of what people expect to get when they type in a search query. The bar has been set and it’s our challenge to deliver as good a result for video search as people have come to expect for text search,” he said.

Google Video

The company that defines traditional search on the Internet aims to play a leading role in video search as well. That work will come largely through its Google Video service.

Rather than search for video on the main Google page, where video results would turn up with other results or not at all, Google wants users to look for video specifically at Google Video. Once there, searching isn’t the only way around. The service is browse-based, too, and enables random discovery of content.

Gemstar-TV Guide

The dominant provider of interactive program guides, which services Comcast’s footprint, will release a new version of its guide in the middle of this year in a phased rollout to Comcast homes. This new iteration will include integrated search capabilities.

Today users can search for content on linear TV. But the next version will enable viewers to search for programming from both video-on-demand offerings and traditionally scheduled TV, said Mike McKee, president of interactive program guides for Gemstar-TV Guide.

It’s important to offer different search experiences because some viewers will want to use the grid while others will want to search by genre, title or actor, he said: “We want to offer it in multiple ways.”


An online TV guide, MeeVee searches through actual TV listings rather than all video on the Web. The approach of MeeVee is to look forward into the next few weeks of scheduled TV programming rather than look back on the Web for past content.

It’s also designed to be a personal guide that helps users manage viewing preferences, send them to a friend or be alerted to upcoming content, said Matthew Cullen, VP of sales and business development for MeeVee. “We want to be the place people come to discover video they want to watch, whether through linear TV or Internet TV channels,” he said.