07:11 PM

AOL Boosts Video Search

America Online debuts on its free, enhanced video search that includes a new lightweight video viewer and speech-recognition technology that can give better results based on the audio of multimedia files.

America Online Inc. on Wednesday debuted on its free web portal enhanced video search that includes a new lightweight video viewer and speech-recognition technology that can give better results based on the audio of multimedia files.

The Dulles, Va., unit of Time Warner Inc. said the improved search engine goes beyond its previous ability to search only closed-caption information provided by content contributors.

"The biggest challenge with video search is that metadata (provided by content partners) is inconsistent and oftentimes absent," Alex Blum, vice president of audience product management at AOL, said. "Speech recognition delivers significantly more relevant search results."

To make showing video easier, AOL introduced a "lightweight video viewer" that leverages the playback engines of media players already in the PC, including the popular Windows Media Player, RealPlayer and QuickTime from Microsoft Corp., RealNetworks Inc. and Apple Computer Inc., respectively.

"(The viewer) is JavaScript that takes advantage of the PC environment," Blum said, adding that viewers can create their own play lists for content they want to access later.

AOL plans to announce next week new content partners for its video-search repository.

For advertisers, the viewer can deliver ads relevant to the content chosen by the consumer, Blum said. The advertising can be displayed in a variety of ways, including before or after a video is shown.

"We've monetized this is an elegant way that'll be attractive to advertisers, but doesn't detract from the user experience," Blum said.

As a growing number of consumers switch from dial-up Internet access to broadband, demand for video is also expected to increase. The AOL video page on the beta version of its public portal, which is scheduled to launch out of beta in late July, has 15 million unique users a month who watch more than 100 million video streams, Blum said.

These numbers have been accomplished without "aggressive promotion," which is coming, Blum said. If the demand for video continues, then the AOL video page is expected to oneday surpass the homepage in the number of visitors.

AOL launched the test version of its new entertainment portal last week, saying that it planned to use video as the primary lure for consumers using broadband connections.

AOL's focus on broadband households makes sense, given the latter's growth. Broadband lines worldwide reached 164 million as of the end of March, an increase of 52 million lines since the same month a year ago, according to research firm Point Topic. The United States is the largest market with 36.5 million lines.

Broadband users also tend to spend more time and money online, experts said.

AOL rivals, however, are not sitting still. Yahoo Inc. has built its advertising business around entertainment for years, and is also heavily into video. Microsoft Corp.'s MSN has also made multimedia content its focus, and search giant Google Inc. is building better search capabilities for video.

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