Digital Dealmakers: Suranga Chandratillake

Dec 4, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The player: Suranga Chandratillake, founder and chief technology officer of blinkx

The play: Imagine for a moment trying to navigate the Internet without a search engine; it would be impossible. That is why an array of video-search firms, including blinkx, have sprouted up to attempt to solve the biggest problem facing the red-hot online video business today: How to search for and sift through the reams of videos now available online as effectively as Google and others search for Web sites. One of the highest-profile players in the burgeoning video-search business, blinkx offers both a site and a technology for other sites to license so Web users can quickly sift through and find the videos they want. Mr. Chandratillake has struck deals with companies such as Lycos, A&E Networks, AOL, InfoSpace and others either to power search on their sites or to include their videos on the blinkx site.

The pitch: Blinkx has indexed more than 7 million hours of online video from what Mr. Chandratillake estimates is a total online pool of anywhere from 10 million to 30 million hours. Blinkx uses software to trawl the videos themselves for information on what they are about and also relies on speech recognition software. In addition, the company is testing tools for facial recognition.

Pros: Video search is a potentially mammoth business. ComScore recently reported that more than 106.5 million people, or about three out of every five U.S. Internet users, streamed or downloaded video during the month of July. That represents nearly 7.2 billion videos.

Cons: Because of the enormous opportunity, blinkx faces stiff competition from start-ups such as ClipBlast, PureVideo and CastTV, and from more established players such as AOL’s Truveo. Also, Google and Yahoo could make a play in video search.

The money guys: The company is self- and angel-funded. Mr. Chandratillake said he’s not looking for venture capital money now, though that could change in the future. Blinkx is not profitable and he declined to discuss a timeframe for achieving profitability. However, blinkx is already earning revenues through the licensing deals it has struck. “The most interesting thing about blinkx financially is we generate revenue today and we don’t actually host or play the video, so our costs are very low. We direct traffic to other sites, so we have a nicely leveraged business,” Mr. Chandratillake said.

Making money: Over time, blinkx will rely on two revenue models: licensing deals and contextually matching video ads to video-search results. The backstory: Mr. Chandratillake founded the company in 2004 with a team of six employees, each in a different location-one in Northern California, one in Southern California, one in New York, two in different parts of the United Kingdom and one in Beijing. Now, the company counts 29 employees in three offices in San Francisco, Cambridge, England, and Beijing. Which current media entities are most threatened by the changes today? “I don’t think it’s media companies. But the biggest group is the rest of the Internet. The Internet is very text-oriented …. All the things we have built for the textual Web need to be revamped. Everyone who has built so heavily on text has to flip over to video.”

Background: Prior to founding blinkx, Mr. Chandratillake worked at Autonomy Corp. as the chief technology officer and has also worked with technology start-ups. He spent time at Morgan Stanley as a software developer. He was born in Kandy, Sri Lanka, grew up in England and now lives in San Francisco. He received a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Cambridge.

Who knew?

Mr. Chandratillake plays the balalaika, a Russian string folk instrument that looks like a little triangular guitar. He learned to play while growing up in Manchester, England. “Now, I am just good enough where I am dangerous on my own,” he said. He’s working on building an electric balalaika.