TV Guide, which has helped viewers navigate through thousands of TV shows for 53 years, now wants to do the same for Internet video. Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. will launch a test version next month of an online video search tool that allows viewers to find clips and full episodes of TV shows now being posted on the Web. A formal launch is planned for September.
The tool will not try to aggregate the thousands of user-generated videos featuring pet tricks, skits and other antics being posted on sites such as YouTube and Revver.
Instead, it will scour about 60 Web sites from major networks such as ABC and Fox and other video portals such as AOL and Google to find network and original programming produced by major media companies.
"Everybody says, 'Who's going to be the TV Guide of online video?' and we say, why shouldn't it be us?" said Richard Cusick, senior vice president of digital media at Gemstar-TV Guide. "We're making a bet, but we think it's a safe bet and consistent with our mission."
The company hopes to make money by selling ads on the new search site as well as licensing its technology.
The effort comes amid an explosion of video content on the Web. Sites such as YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc., Revver, Grouper, which is owned by Sony Corp., and others attract millions of visitors and feature short clips uploaded by users.
Meanwhile, TV networks and film studios are searching for new ways to distribute their content and grab the attention of online viewers.
On Thursday, NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric Co., and News Corp., which runs the Fox network, among others, formed a joint venture to distribute their shows across the Web.
The new company will run its own Internet site and syndicate programs to such popular portals as Yahoo, MSN and AOL.
The move reinforced Gemstar's belief that Internet viewers want quick access to high-quality network shows, and there is money to be made by providing a tool to sift through such content.
TV Guide is coming late to the video search game. The head start enjoyed by other companies, most notably Google, could be difficult to overcome, said Rob Enderle, a technology analyst.
"If they don't want to become obsolete, they have to get into the search business," Enderle said, adding that the strength of the TV Guide brand could be a key to attracting users.
But Google is likely to expand its own video search capabilities.
"Today, TV Guide can be better," Enderle said. "But fast-forward two years from now, and you wonder if TV Guide has the resources to compete with Google long term."
The company hopes to learn lessons from the Web that can be applied years from now when video is delivered directly to TV sets through high-speed Internet connections. And it hopes its electronic guide, which already is used on most TV sets and cable systems, will serve to organize both traditional TV content and Web-based shows.
The company is also planning search tools for mobile devices.
"For us, the notion of guidance has changed dramatically," Gemstar chief executive Richard Battista said. "It used to be about TV guidance, but now its about video guidance and TV Guide needs to be the leading provider of video guidance."
Other companies are also entering the nascent field of online video search. Time Warner Inc.'s AOL launched its own search tool using technology from Truveo Inc., which crawls the Web and looks for information surrounding a video on a Web page to make the search more relevant.
Search company Blinkx uses voice recognition and transcription software to find clips, then automatically sends them to subscribers.
Google and Yahoo also provide video search tools. But those are either too broad, returning irrelevant and, in many cases, pirated results, or concentrate too much on user-generated content, TV Guide contends.
The often simple titles of TV shows also complicate search. Someone looking for clips from the Fox show "House" might have to wade through pages of results about homebuilding or mortgage rates.
The TV Guide video search technology, like some other search engines, looks for descriptive words, called "metadata," surrounding a video.
It then marries that information with the vast database compiled over the years for TV Guide's print magazine and Web site. That kind of cross-referencing is designed to provide more relevant results and also allow TV Guide to group results by celebrity, network or genre.
"We can take relatively unstructured Web data, combine it with our very structured TV data and get much more relevant results and start to draw those connections," Cusick said.
The TV Guide search tool will also allow users to save videos in an application that can be 'detached" from the site and sit on the computer screen, allowing viewing at any time.