Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret

Searching the Web for Video Clips

Video on the Web is all the rage now, the subject of an endless stream of articles and speculation that it’s the next big thing. And there’s some evidence to back that up. Apple Computer Inc. sold 12 million video clips at $1.99 each from its popular iTunes Music Store in just a few months. Google has made a splash with a similar video download store. According to AccuStream iMedia Research, about 18 billion video streams were online in 2005 and that number is expected to grow by more than 30% in 2006.

But how do you find the video clips you’d like to see, or download? Normal search engines like Google’s can sometimes point you to video clips, but they aren’t optimized for that task.

So, this week, we dived into the world of online videos, looking for the best ways to find clips. We were impressed by how much material is out there — much of it free. We used about 10 different video searching/hosting sites to find videos related to TV shows, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” Hollywood actors, like Matthew McConaughey, and musicians, like Brad Paisley. We also searched for news videos, ads and amateur videos. We even looked for a famous “Saturday Night Live” mock music video, and its imitators.

Scenes from 'Lazy Monday,' a West Coast imitation of a 'Saturday Night Live' video
Scenes from ‘Lazy Monday,’ a West Coast imitation of a ‘Saturday Night Live’ video

Our results: AOL Video Search, Yahoo Video Search, and Blinkx TV earned our appreciation because each searches the entire Internet for material, and does a decent job.

Google Video and iTunes also perform video searches, but they search only among the material they host on their own servers, and which they offer for sale, or for free downloading. They don’t search across the entire Web. Sites like YouTube.com and GoFish.com have sprung up as central download sites for all sorts of video clips, some by amateurs and some by pros. But they, too, search only the material they offer themselves.

The technology for searching the actual spoken words in a video exists, but is in its infancy. So, most video searches are done by looking for words in a video’s title text, or in descriptions or other information embedded in a video file in the form of “metadata” or “tags” — kind of like the embedded title, artist and album information in a music file. Some TV shows stored on the Web also contain closed captioning data, and that can be searched in some cases.

AOL Video Search (www.aol.com/video) uses the search engines of two smaller, yet powerful, companies that it owns: Truveo.com and Singingfish.com. As you use AOL Video Search, your past search topics are saved in a left-hand column and videos can be saved into a special AOL playlist. An adult content filter is used on AOL’s server, meaning users can’t turn the filter on or off.

Using AOL, we found and watched the “Saturday Night Live” mock music video called “Lazy Sunday,” set in New York, and its West Coast response, “Lazy Monday,” set in Los Angeles.

Yahoo Video Search (http://video.search.yahoo.com) can display results in a visually attractive grid of images from each video clip. Unlike AOL, which displays advertisements on its search start and results page, Yahoo doesn’t show ads on either page — though ads will display if they’re linked to videos from outside sources. A SafeSearch filter can be used for blocking adult material as you search videos.

Using Yahoo’s video search, we turned up clips of a forgettable 1998 appearance Walt made in an East Coast vs. West Coast computer trivia contest held in Boston. Not only was his East Coast team crushed, but they wore puffy colonial shirts while being crushed.

Blinkx TV (www.Blinkx.tv) uses a simple interface and makes searching easy — an empty box placed on the left of the screen with a collage of 100 tiny clip images playing on the right. After results are returned, you can adjust a horizontal slider between “date” or “relevance,” depending on your preference. Our results weren’t always as accurate with Blinkx as they were with other video-search sites — one search returned spreadsheets rather than videos — but we liked how the results page played animated clips of each video in the same window. Blinkx offers a prominent filtering button to hide adult results.

Google Video (http://video.google.com), which is still in its beta (or prerelease) version, also offers video searching through free videos — but allows you to search only through material that Google hosts, or streams from its servers. This site eliminates ads — including Google’s word-only ads — entirely, which is refreshing.

A section in Google Video is a store — devoted to clips that can be watched only after purchasing or renting them for a day with a “Day Pass.” In both cases, videos must be played using Google’s downloadable Video Player. Google’s videos range in price depending on content: a clip of a two hour and 25 minute basketball game was $3.95, while an episode of the CBS TV show, “Survivor,” cost $1.99. This pricing seemed confusing compared with Apple’s iTunes, where all videos are $1.99.

We tried Microsoft’s MSN Video (http://video.msn.com), which is limited only to content that it hosts as of now, but MSN is soon adding the ability to search the whole Web. It used about the same amount of advertisements as AOL Video Search, prior to each clip as well as on the search pages.

Another site, TVEyes Video Search (www.tveyes.com), looks only at television and radio broadcasts, but doesn’t use advertisements.

Two similar sites that depend on user contributions and comments are YouTube (www.youtube.com) and GoFish (www.gofish.com). Each Web site searches only within the content it hosts, and that content is uploaded by site members, but anyone can watch the video. GoFish is ad-free and YouTube has just a few ads. One problem we had with GoFish: It hosts, and even touts, adult-oriented video clips featuring some nudity and sexual themes, but doesn’t sufficiently label them as adult, or group them into an adult category.

This is only a sampling of what’s out there, and new search sites pop up all the time. So keep searching those videos.


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