According to Variety, Google and its competitor Yahoo! are launching new services that may eventually put the entire universe of TV shows and movies online and accessible via a Web search.
That could pose new dangers to studios as content moves further out of their control. But Netcos are wagering the potential benefits are even greater, including new sources of revenue, viral marketing and a place at the heart of the Internet.
Google Video launches today in a test version that will let users search for key words in closed-captioning transcripts of shows and see still images that appear when the search term appears. Shortly, though, Google hopes to offer streaming video clips that match users' queries.
Because most networks and studios put only a small fraction of their content online, Google will have to develop partnerships with content owners who agree to let the Netco record and store their programs.
Google didn't provide a full list of partners with whom it is working, citing only PBS, Fox News, the NBA and C-SPAN as the first video providers. Others are expected to be available today, with more joining in the near future.
Google will have to entice partners with marketing exposure and advertising dollars, however, which it is planning to do in several ways. At launch, Google Video will include listings for future airings of TV shows that users find when searching, helping to drive viewers to networks.
In the future, Google may include text-based ads or insert ads into video streams and split revenue with content providers.
"Different content owners will have different interests, and we would like to work with them to figure out what types of business models will work best," explained Jennifer Feikin, director of Google Video. "We expect some will provide their content for free and some will want to be compensated. Some of those will want users to pay, and others will want there to be advertising."
Yahoo! is countering by launching publicly a similar service it has been testing. Unlike Google, Yahoo!'s doesn't have any content partners currently, but it does index the vast array of amateur and professional video already on the Web, including movie trailers and musicvids the Web portal itself hosts.
In addition, Yahoo! has signed a deal with video service TVEyes to provide content from Bloomberg, the BBC and BSkyB. Those partners are expected to be accessible via the Yahoo! video search in the next few months.
Perhaps most important, Yahoo! is already working vigorously to obtain more content from major media companies.
Such partnerships will be the key for both services. In the race to obtain video from the studios, Yahoo! has the advantage of stronger Hollywood ties thanks to CEO Terry Semel and entertainment topper Lloyd Braun, while Google has the larger brand name and leading technology in search.
As its service expands, Google will reach out to all types of content owners to expand its library. Among the video Feikin said the company would be interested in are TV shows, films, documentaries and university lectures.
Video search is the second major offering Google has made in conjunction with media companies. It recently launched Google Print, in which publishers can let the Netco scan its books and make texts searchable. Users are able to see excerpts from relevant books and are directed to online stores where they can purchase the titles.
Both programs involve major investments by Google, which has to scan, store and make searchable huge amounts of data, particularly in the case of video.
"There's a huge amount of information out there, and this is all part of an effort to make it accessible and useful," said Feikin.