Video Searchers, Browsers, and Discoverers

If you were at iHollywood's Search and Media event last week, you might have been surprised to find that the panelists tasked with making sense of video search kept changing the subject when it came up. Everyone wanted to talk about discovery, not search.

Perhaps the best sign of what would ensue was listed on the nametag of the speaker preceding the panel: Randall Hounsell, Comcast Cable Communications Management's vice president of search and discovery. Using Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn, I was only able to find three people with a similar title: a vice president at Elsevier (who's now chief technology officer), a director at IBM and a senior product manager of Mobile Search & Discovery at Vodafone. Though discovery marketing may be a little too nebulous to perch neatly alongside search marketing, these search and discovery pioneers should find themselves part of a larger club soon. (Perhaps they can start a group on Facebook.)

The iHollywood panel I moderated was entitled "TV and Video Search: The Killer App?" Based on the responses from the panelists, the answer to the quasi-question would be a resounding "No." They all appreciated search, yet it's one of several ways people find video online. The second browsing -- whether it's by category, channel or video popularity. Then comes discovery, which can be bisected into "automated discovery," where the publisher offers recommendations, based on other users' behavior, related keywords, or other factors, and "user-referred discovery," which is the same as word-of-mouth or viral activity. For both types of discovery, the end result is the same -- people watch videos they didn't intend to watch, generally at a time when they didn't plan on watching any videos at all.



Taking a step back, search is, of course, not the only way one finds Web sites or other content. As mentioned in a previous column, searching only accounts for 5% of the time people spend online -- though this 5% matters disproportionately more for nearly every marketer and publisher. That's why search marketing accounts for between 40% and 50% of online ad spending. With video search, searchers may be more valuable than browsers or discoverers, but there won't be as much of a bounty on consumers who search. With video, publishers want consumers to gorge on as much content as possible, and automated discovery is the most efficient way for publishers to hog consumers' attention.

Still, the role of search shouldn't be minimized.

It can be a profitable way to lead people to videos and also to provide revenue for publishers. CEO Keith Richman offered the most provocative example during the iHollywood panel. He said can only fulfill a small percentage of searches, largely because the searches for copyrighted content that isn't available there. When someone searches for "South Park episodes," no search results appear, but there are two text ads served by Google. Richman said he can earn more from someone clicking an ad than if someone were to watch a "South Park" clip on his site. In other words, it's more profitable for him when he can't give his visitors what they want.

Richman still values the user's experience on his site. This was most pronounced after the spotlight shined on Veoh CEO Dmitry Shapiro regarding the VeohTV service, now in beta, which aggregates videos from around the Web and allows users to view them in a downloadable player, rather than on the site offering the video. Shapiro noted, at first, that content owners have some questions about it, though he added later that the response has been largely favorable.

Richman responded directly that if VeohTV scales, he'll sue, as Break makes money from ads displayed around the content. While White & Case intellectual property associate Craig Clark wouldn't comment directly on VeohTV, he noted that "everything is a red flag right now." Mass consumption of online video is so new, anything can be a legal risk. He added: "There is no safe way to take someone else's content and monetize it without risking a copyright-infringement suit."

While there may be many red flags, the promise of green is the greater draw, and opportunity abounds to serve consumers whether they search, browse or discover. With that, I'll thank all my session's panelists -- those mentioned, along with Metacafe vice president of content and programming Erik Smith, Nexidia senior vice president of Media Drew Lanham, and ClipBlast CEO Gary Baker -- for illuminating the spectrum of what's possible. Even those not searching for upcoming developments with video search will inevitably wind up discovering them.

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