It’s always tempting to say the future is here, but this time that might really be the case. On Thurs, Warner Bros re-launched its moribund television network as a free, online video destination. The wb.com site is chocked full of eps from series seen previously on the old WB, like "Veronica Mars." But there’s also a load of content from other networks, like seasons of "Friends." The roster of familiar hits includes "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "One Tree Hill," "Angel," "Gilmore Girls," "Smallville" and others. There’s a bevy of online-only series, too.

Fine, you say, Warner Bros has launched a Hulu competitor. Yes, but the possibilities of one part of wb.com excite us beyond the story of another well-endowed video site launching. That’s because wb.com includes a video search function that allows users to do what nearly every text-based site can do, namely search based on a key word.

For example, you can ask the search function to find video on the site where Madonna is mentioned, or Alfred Hitchcock. We found it works not as well with generic words, like "peanut butter." The tech company Digitalsmiths  provided the search solution, doing yeoman’s work to transcribe and archive dialogue contained in wb.com video. True, the search function doesn’t work perfectly, or even well. I’d say 50% of the time is about right—if you’re lucky. On the other hand, have you found Google searches to turn up totally relevant material all the time?

OK, but what about the future part? The immediate future is obvious: Advertising. With 75% of Internet users accessing online video last year, the field is ripe. First off, you advertise around the search function—“this video search is sponsored by…” Then you start cataloguing data based on users’ searches, ie, which piece of video is coming up most often in searches? How long are users watching the searched clip? Do they stay on the site longer if they’re using a search function? Advertisers would pay well for that information.

What intrigues us more than the advertising piece are the myriad directions video search could go. Why not apply such functions to television? How about giving a cable operator’s VOD system the same video search capability that wb.com has? Down the road—way down the road probably—why not do more with metadata? For example, is it inconceivable that for some reason you want to search your cable operator’s VOD database for video where the word “chocolate” is used? Or search for video that shows every time Jennifer Aniston used the word “lipstick”? Let’s really dream. You turn on your set to HBO, which is running a film that you’ve never seen before, but you’re hooked and you desperately want to know the names of the actors on screen right at this moment. You also want a quick summary of this scene (not the overall film itself). Well, we can hope, right?

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