ITN selects start-up Blinkx for video search

Blinkx may have come late to the search party but the upstart hopes to beat rivals like Google by focusing on video

Search firm Blinkx has landed its first commercial deal as it attempts to become a major player in the emerging video search market.

ITN, the UK TV news network, has chosen Blinkx to create and package up to 80 video clips per week. These clips will cover the latest news, plus interviews and news analysis.

The deal is part of ITN's attempt to use the Internet as a media platform, on top of its existing focus on television. Blinkx is also supplying ITN with a branded video player application which will allow it to offer its video content in multiple formats. The clips will be free to view, either from ITN's site or through Blinkx's own video search, but will include adverts.

Blinkx was formed in late 2003 by Suranga Chandratillake and Kathy Rittweger, formerly of Autonomy and Microsoft retrospectively. Before signing the deal with ITN, Blinkx was surviving purely on start-up funding.

Originally, the company's sales pitch was that it would automatically search through the data on user's hard drive, including emails and attachments, and through news sites and blogs — allowing it to give instantaneous search results from a wide range of sources.

But speaking on Tuesday, Chandratillake explained that Blinkx's focus is now very much on video search. "Desktop search is a pretty boring business to be in. It's becoming commoditised, and it will be a non-industry within the next 12 months," said Chandratillake, who pointed out that many companies now offer very proficient desktop search applications.

"That functionality is getting built into the operating system now. It's very hard to persuade users to download extra tools when the operating system does the job so well," he added.

Making video search work
Video search is much more challenging than text search, because the content isn't delivered in a state that is easy to search. Blinkx's answer is to take a stream of audio and break it down into its phonemes — the basic sound units that make up speech. Blinkx then analyses these phonemes and attempts to construct an accurate transcript.

Assembling an accurate transcript out of phonemes is tricky, as the same sequence of phonemes can build very different words or phrases.

For example, a search for "marijuana" did bring up some videos of the plant, but also produced a clip of an interview with Chelsea football manager Jose Mourinho.

Chandratillake explained that Blinkx uses its database of text search results to try and bring a contextual element to this exercise but he acknowledged that the process wasn't perfect.