Google and Yahoo's moves are just a first step in their efforts to blast a path to our content-on-demand future, a time when viewers will choose what and when they watch, all at the click of a mouse.
Though in their early stages, its new service underscores Google's ambitions to digitize otherwise analog content and make it fully searchable for users. It also foreshadows a heated race between Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to be the de facto service for finding information wherever it resides: the TV, Internet, cell phones or other convergence devices.
"We think TV is a big part of people's lives," Jonathan Rosenberg, Google's vice president of product management told CNET. "Ultimately, we would like to have all TV programming indexed."
Google, for its part, has a ways to go. Its new search service works by archiving the closed-captioning text, which broadcasters provide for the deaf. Users can read excerpts from shows that turn up in a search and see stills from the program. But they don't yet permit people to watch the video segment on their computers. With this conservative approach, Google appears to be showing off the potential for video search while avoiding a legal tussle with television executives who see their futures disappearing down the broadband pipe.
Copyright issues pose a spate of additional problems related to video searching and viewing. Google and other Internet video providers such as ShadowTV must clear digital rights with broadcasters. And broadcasters in turn must secure Internet rights with actors, producers and musicians. This could get very ugly.
"TV search is going to be a large advertising revenue driver in time," Sean Morgan, CEO of Critical Mention told CNET. "But broadcasters are still wondering if the search engines could cannibalize the TV viewing itself."
A pay per view model might be the solution.
For their part, Google and Yahoo believe that the popularity of the application will support sales of their successful keyword search services. This rejuvenated online advertising model fueled tremendous revenue growth for both companies in 2004, growing approximately 55% over 2003 to become a nearly $4 billion market in the US alone, according to emarketer.
Chris Anderson writes that the decentralized distribution platform for video content will break the broadcast monopoly on TV. But is a system that frees viewers from the top-down programming of the networks a good thing? Anderson thinks so, but with some conditions:
And Jeff Jarvis shares Anderson's view. He also throws user-created and uploaded content into the mix (more on this to come):
. . . it's more likely to lead to an open marketplace in which anyone can play. I don't, however, think that an entirely bottoms-up self-service market such as eBay will dominate. Programming is not a commodity and the quality of the shows, which is the most important thing, is not easy to ascertain without trusted advice and recommendations. Instead, what seems to work best for entertainment media is a somewhat more structured environment, such as Amazon and iTunes, where critics' reviews, customer comments and expert taxonomies can all combine to help people find great stuff fast.
In the future of exploding TV, a few months away, anybody can create video programming and do it inexpensively with new equipment and tools; they can distribute it online and they can "market" it (that is, it can be found) thanks to metadata and search and links. All this levels the playing field.The challenge before consumer groups is to ensure that the costs for a content-on-demand future are kept low by an open, fair and diverse marketplace.