Thursday, December 22, 2005

An mpeg Will Be Worth a Thousand Words

Have you used Windows Explorer to look at TV video files that you've downloaded from iTunes? Did you notice that these TV files have the same tags as your music files? Name, Artist, Album and Genre are used to represent Ep Title, TV Series, TV Series-Season # and "TV Shows," respectively. Fortunately, the Description tag is available for ep synopses.

I can't wait for the metadata fields to catch up with the times. At some point tags will be used to identify every person involved in the show, including all technical crew members. These tags will also include the show's transcript.

Why are these small technical advances important?
  • Distributed Information: Since data is distributed, sites like imdb and no longer have to hire area experts (or rely on a community) to update their databases. They only need a few people to maintain a database of shows with the appropriate URLs so that each show's metadata is dynamically updated from the video file. That's why I won't provide ep guides nor actor appearances on this site; instead, I've chosen to expend energy for design and index completeness.

  • Expert Gate Keepers: Since the production company oversees the development and manufacture of each video file, show experts are responsible for the accuracy and completeness of metadata. The production companies won't be 100% accurate, but they are likely to be more accurate than a community and work faster than an area expert.

  • Searchability: Since all file metadata will adhere to the same format, the average person will be able to search various fields using a very simple interface. You cannot perform any of these searches right now. Furthermore, Google's video search capability will be available for all video — not just the video in its archives.

I now better understand why Yahoo CEO Terry Semel took the stand that he did three months ago when he unveiled Yahoo's video strategy. I think he's mostly right. It is up to the production companies (and broadcast execs) to index their archives and make them available. But I think he might end up behind the curve if he waits for these same companies to add their indices to Yahoo's video search.

Why would AOL add their In2TV archives to Yahoo's indices when they're trying to drive traffic to their own portal? Why would MTV add their archives after they make a deal with MSN? (I'd bet that MSN would disallow such a move since they're also trying to drive traffic to their own portal.) In both cases, MSN and AOL can skew searches to demonstrate their competitors' deficiencies in this area and use the stats as a marketing tool.

That competition likely means only small production companies will add their archives to Yahoo's video search. But what if some independent site becomes a large portal for video from small production companies and that sites wants to become the portal for all TV? That competitive instinct comes out again, and it'll remove its indices from Yahoo (by changing URLs) after using Yahoo and other search engines to establish itself as the TV destination site.

In the end I think Yahoo will still have to maintain its own indices, either by using experts or relying on search tags, if Semel wants Yahoo to be the portal for all TV-related video.

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