A holiday encounter with a turkey led the software engineer to create a search engine that does a better job of finding Web video
Talking turkey changed Suranga Chandratillake's life. For years he reluctantly dragged himself to family gatherings, knowing that every time someone asked him about his job, as an executive who sifted through corporate data for other companies, their eyes would glaze over. As it turned out, it was Thanksgiving that led him to a more interesting line of work.
Six years ago a chat with a co-worker turned to carving the holiday bird, and Chandratillake went online for tips. He found plenty of written instructions on the Web but not the video carving lessons he was seeking. Inspiration struck, and he decided to create a video search engine to help solve the problem. blinkx was born.
Founded in 2004, the San Francisco company was a spin-off of Chandratillake's former employer, business software firm Autonomy. blinkx sifts through the 35 million-plus videos on the Web to unearth anything from a clip of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi episode to news footage of President Obama speaking on welfare reform. Most search engines rely on tags—the brief and often cryptic descriptions people write when they upload a video to the Internet. blinkx searches for visual and audio cues as well as written descriptions to deliver results. "It's a bit like reading the book, not just the cover," says Chandratillake, 32, who was born in Sri Lanka and raised in the U.K. When he was 8, his father refused to buy him a video game until he showed some programming skills. He was hooked—dashing his parents' hopes he'd become a doctor.
blinkx, which went public in May 2007 on London's AIM market, has struck deals to power searches for video for Ask.com, MSN. com, and Samsung's Galaxy S smartphones. This fall, those who buy the Logitech (LOGI) Revue, a set-top box that allows users to browse the Web from a TV, will get access to blinkx with an application that finds and delivers daily news and entertainment videos. Advertisers pay blinkx to serve up marketing that's contextually relevant to videos consumers are viewing. blinkx's early lead on video search could help it claim a big chunk of a Web ad market that researcher eMarketer expects to reach $96.8 billion by 2014. "blinkx's efficient video search will become a prerequisite" for Web advertisers, says Daniel Stewart & Co. analyst Mike Jeremy. blinkx logged its first operating profit this year.
With competitors such as Clicker trying to create their own video searching services, Chandratillake is pushing to get blinkx on more smartphones, televisions, and other products. In late September, he announced a partnership with mobile startup Evri to find and deliver short videos of gossip and sports to Apple's (AAPL) iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, as well as mobile devices using Google's (GOOG) Android operating system. "Video can just tell a better story sometimes," he says.