Video search began as a medium most popular with college students searching for online content in their dorm rooms, but it has grown into a ubiquitous source for news, entertainment and, of course, cat videos.
In the mid-2000s, the idea of video search was starting to catch on. Companies such as AOL and Google wanted a piece of the action. AOL’s Truveo sprung up in 2004 and launched a video search feature in 2005.
YouTube also emerged in 2005 as a place to search for online videos and was quickly purchased by Google the following year. In 2004, another company was born that’s now one of the largest independent video search engines on the web, even though it is not a household search engine like YouTube: blinkx.
“Many people have used blinkx and don’t know it,” says Blinkx founder and CEO Suranga Chandratillake.
The company hosts video services for ask.com and other sites. In total, blinkx gets about 85 million unique users per month, with its largest audience being the United States and the U.K. coming in at second.
Before Chandratillake founded blinkx, he was the CTO of Autonomy — a pioneer in video search. In the early days of video search, people who used the service were tech-savvy and often knew what they were searching for.
“The big change we’ve added on our site is a browser feature,” Chandratillake says.
Video search is different than creating a text search engine. Since computers can’t “watch” videos, they grab keywords from the metadata to categorize the visual media. Thus, text searches are more objective than video search, and a text search for “funny story” is more likely to be accurate than a video search for “funny video.”
“For instance, a very funny video might just have the title “OMG – Check this out!” with no other relevant text tags,” says a YouTube spokesperson.
Speech recognition technology, in essence, can “watch” the videos by filtering through closed captioning (Blinkx and YouTube both use this). Taking information from metadata does not always accurately categorize video content. If the person who uploads the video titles it “so funny, must watch” — or something non-descriptive or incorrect, it won’t be as accurate of a search. Pinpointed searches don’t just stop with speech recognition. In the future, Chandratillake says, video search engines will be able to identify objects — such as certain public figures, which comprise 95% of searches — that people might frequently search for material on. It is possible that one day, videos could identify private citizens, if that appeals to the public, he adds.
Future Applications of Video Search
“Even if the technology doesn’t change much, where it’s used will be interesting,” he says. “Our TVs are the next platform that will be video search enabled.”
Interactive TV is already catching on, with Google TV and numerous game consoles connected to the Internet.
Microsoft acquired VideoSurf in late 2011 for around $100 million. The company plans to connect VideoSurf with Xbox, along with Comcast and other cable providers and TV networks. The search can “see” what you’re watching and then recommend other supported content on Xbox.
Over the last two years or so, television viewers have been lured away from the big screen with the rise of Hulu and Netflix. So it’s no surprise that blinkx’s biggest competitors are other video services — not television programs.
But there will always be a need for television, Chandratillake says. There are numerous niche videos on search engines showing things like “how to tie a bow-tie” — but could that be a channel on TV or even a half-hour program? Unlikely. Which is why social-media integrated televisions are expected to experience growth.
A spokesperson from YouTube says the Super Bowl is a big day for searches on YouTube for commercials.
“This is because increasingly, people are watching the game with their laptop, mobile phone or tablet in hand, and go to YouTube to replay their favorite commercials,” the spokesperson says.
YouTube sees about a billion searches per day and 60 hours of video uploaded every minute — that’s one hour of video per second. (You can watch YouTube’s One Hour Per Second video here.)
In the future, video search providers like YouTube and blinkx hope to be even more intuitive when it comes to identifying what type of videos users are searching for.
“People come to YouTube to find a certain video, but they also search for broad experiences — “fail,” “step show,” “funny,” “flash mob” — where whole channels of content can be relevant. As we get better at providing this experience, we think we’ll get even more of these broader queries,” says the YouTube spokesperson. “Ideally, people will search for a video or an experience, and then by adding the channel to their guide, they can keep coming back to their homepage to see even more videos they like.”