Quest for User Control

Mar 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

A new Internet video search and recording service called Groundhog.tv is out to give consumers more control over how they watch TV on the Web.

The service-basically an Internet-based DVR that launched in a test version last month-allows viewers to pause, rewind and fast-forward live and archived content on the Internet. In addition, the service lets users edit that video and send shortened clips to friends or to post on other sites, a nod to the increasing importance of user-generated-or user-tweaked, in this case-content.

“We want to be a giant video jukebox,” said Joachim Kim, founder and CEO of Groundhog.tv. “We take content and make it searchable. We see it becoming the digital platform by which content is made interactive and personalized.”

Consumers will have unprecedented control over when and how content is viewed and programmers will have control over how material is distributed and found, Mr. Kim said.

The rise of broadband penetration has unleashed a market for technology and tools to manage and manipulate video online. Nielsen//NetRatings reported last week that about 68 percent of active Internet users connect via broadband.

Groundhog.tv is a service of ShadowTV, which has been operating since 2001 as a business-to-business service offering broadcasters, government agencies and advertisers a way to monitor commercials.

Groundhog.tv recognizes that video search is inherently different from text search and demands a different approach. Consumers are unlikely to go to the general Web to track down video but instead will visit sites they frequent, such as network Web sites or local TV station sites, Mr. Kim said.

That’s why Groundhog.tv is looking to strike deals with content providers to become the platform that makes the video on their sites accessible and easy to manipulate. Google, for one, learned the hard way when it introduced Google Video at the start of last year without obtaining permission from video rights holders and incited an outcry. The search giant has since retooled its approach and has been actively aligning with content providers to deliver their content on the Google Video service, now an online store for video content.

“The issue is copyright. Someone owns that video, be it a King World or Harpo or ABC New York. There is a labyrinth of rights and royalties due the content owners, the talent,” said Laurence Moskowitz, CEO of Medialink. Even local newscasts often contain proprietary video from sports leagues, AccuWeather, Reuters or Associated Press, for instance, he said. That’s why he thinks video search is best left to large search engines like Google or Yahoo or services such as iTunes that have the size to tackle the copyright issue, he said.

Groundhog.tv will exist as an ad-supported service. For the most part, the content owners will sell the ad space, but revenue will be split between Groundhog and the content provider. Ads will include a five- to 10-second pre-roll ad and a direct-response clickable ad embedded in the video player.

The service counts more than 2,000 hours of content now, including video from Media General. “The endgame is to get to millions of hours,” Mr. Kim said.

Media General will use Groundhog.tv to build out the video offerings for its TV stations, starting with NBC affiliate WFLA-TV in Tampa, Fla., said Jody Habayeb, archive and research manager for the station and sister company the Tampa Tribune newspaper. “We are always looking for products that benefit the converged world,” she said. “We want to take that to the next level technologically in terms of delivering your news regardless of the medium, directly to where you are in the world. [Groundhog.tv] is enabling us to offer newscasts online and to handheld devices as well.”

Ad giant Publicis Groupe is also a fan of Groundhog.tv, which has been tapped for inclusion in Publicis’ recently formed digital media unit, Denuo Group, that provides strategic consulting for new media ventures.

“There is an overwhelming demand from advertisers for rich media opportunities,” said Tom Tercek, senior VP of ventures for Denuo. “That suggests there is a strong potential for a video search business in general … [rich media] lends itself to a vehicle that can help find it.”

The interactive tools in Groundhog.tv help the service fit nicely into the needs of bloggers and journalists who want to point to a specific piece in a video feed, he said.

Another thing that works well in Groundhog.tv’s approach is that it is respectful of content owners, said Dewey Reid, creative director for EAT.tv, an interactive firm that designed the user interface for Groundhog.tv.

It’s also interactive and easy to play with, he said. “What I like about the Groundhog.tv piece is basically is that it’s giving you the ability to send and to mark it and take a section out of it,” Mr. Reid said.

“I really think the Internet is about attention deficit disorder TV. Who wants to watch five minutes when you can watch 30 seconds?” he said.