YouTube And Hulu’s Search Results Weakened by Business Limitations


The two largest video-sharing sites (YouTube and Hulu) have business models that increasingly limit their ability to act as a complete video search engines. YouTube has been a Google-esque fast tool for finding video clips that are getting offline buzz, but copyright-law enforcement is weakening it (full examples below). And of course Hulu is meant for meals not snacks. If you want a quick soundbyte, you’ll have to filter through full episodes with prerolls. Neither Hulu or YouTube are very friendly at indexing video hosted elsewhere, even when that may satisfy searchers. This, I’ll suggest, opens the door for a neutral video-search engine that cares not about where or how the video is served, but only about finding the best results (ala Google).

But let’s backup… For several years we’ve had it so easy with “instant video on demand” that we’re still in denial. But the days of instantly finding yesterday’s viral video moment are closing in.

  • When you heard about Tom Cruise dancing on Oprah’s couch, you’d find footage on YouTube within hours.
  • Wanted some context of an election quote? Find video of the entire speech instantly on the tube.
  • Ms. America says something stupid? YouTube it.

But have you tried recently to find a recent, newsworthy video clip? It’s getting exponentially more difficult by the day… Google/YouTube is not just passively flagging videos, but proactively screening or killing the most viral moments (oh, yeah, they’re usually copyright infringements so it has little choice).The ripped clips have been killed faster and faster in recent years and months, but often last long enough to satisfy our need for instant gratification (the next 24 hours). A clever YouTube searcher could, until recently, simply filter results by “today” and “most viewed” or “most recent” and find a clip in a few seconds… before the ripped clips got yanked by frustrated copyright owners.

But now you need a detective license and lots of time to find a decent version, and it’s opening the door to competition in the booming search-for-video market. YouTube, the second-largest search engine, is increasingly playing “soup Nazi” to its own results… and continues to ignore potentially more relevant video hosted elsewhere.

Want examples of how bad it’s getting?

  • South Carolina Republican Representative Joe Wilson yelling ‘lie!’ during Obama’s address about healthcare? A few searches and I found the clip, but usually with more additional footage than I wanted. I just needed to study the body language of all three, and it took a minute or two.
  • Serena Williams’ outburst at U.S. Open a raging success. Nearly impossible to hear what she was saying on most clips. Lots of bogus clips that redirect you to a website for more… but it’s spam crap that makes you complete a survey to see the footage. Ultimately I had to settle for a transcript since most clips were videocameras pointing at television screens.
  • Kanye West stealing the stage from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards? Again- very difficult. Even a search filtered by “most recent” didn’t yield much, presumably because Google/YouTube was pre-filtering video clips tagged with the keywords Kanye, West, Taylor of VMA… leaving little else but someone’s boring-ass vlog about it (or spam clips that direct to another site, which I would expect the algorithm of the second-largest search engine to outsmart).

Hulu and YouTube never point to the “clean” source if it lives elsewhere (like a local or national television website). This is arguably an obligation of a search engine… And good luck finding anything via the search engine of the TV network’s websites (notoriously awful).

So what? This leaves the marketplace wide open for what I thought Google would do from the beginning with video: act as a neutral search-engine for the relevant clips without regard for where they are hosted (you know, like, the ummm Google search model?). Let the video’s host worry about the copyrights, and better yet facilitate crowd sourcing to sort “ripped” video clips from the authentic ones.

Hey it’s great when it benefits me (like all the people that stumbled into my video about Superbowl ads, only to jump out quickly). But we need an agnostic video search engine (fake hyperlink), and I don’t like any of the options today… Blinkx autoplays its selected result, or dumps you to a site that crashed my Firefox 3 times in a row while I wrote this.

When you own the search engine and the destination, your search engine will deprive the searcher when you can’t host the results. If you’re neutral you don’t care. May the copyright owner win.

So I turn to Google video search, but it isn’t much better. Google video search doesn’t index enough sites, and is heavily tilted toward specific sites (YouTube being high among them, obviously). See the emerging market need? A “Limewire” search tool that facilitates search, but the results take you elsewhere… peer-to-peer, weird websites, whatever is relevant. Anything out there that doesn’t suck?

Hey- we don’t need a ripped off version of the whole show. Just that killer moment… if I was a network I’d provide it to YouTube with a link back to my website. And if I was Hulu, I’d try much harder to index “hot” buzz clips of the day. Otherwise a new player will rise to the occasion.

9 Replies to “YouTube And Hulu’s Search Results Weakened by Business Limitations”

  1. I would tell you that this is a great article and that i really enjoyed it, but that would be a lie, since I didn’t read it. Instead, i want to know why the Jay Leno show only has a lame teaser showing part of his interview with kanye west, and not the whole thing? I mean, how the heck am I supposed to see exactly what went down?? I can’t count on youtube for that because over there a bunch of dickheads are posting videos claiming to show the interview when in fact they just advertise some stupid website they want people to visit.

    I’m hungry and I need a shower. And the toiilet is stopped up again. And I don’t have my meds. I bet you already knew that last one.

  2. Dude, you seem to be overlooking a key factor, in your craving for instant video gratification. Big internet search sites cost money to run. CAN YOU MONETIZE THAT? … without expensive lawsuits from copyright holders?

  3. Copyright law is retarded and the TV “EXCLUSIVE HERE NOW!” business model does not work on the internet. Someone will aggregate it all and pair ads with it (most likely google) – making money off sending them traffic. It will be the video destination site, no matter where the video is located. Mark my words.

    Whether it’s google video search, a choice on YouTube reading “and other sites,” or an entirely new place – there’s going to be an actual need for it eventually. These types of things have never really gotten big because YouTube = video. It may not always. It will always = “non-corporate, the little guy” video, but if it has to adhere to dated copyright idiocy*, it probably isn’t going to be the only big portal for video.

    *Which it probably will as the ability to figure out what is actually on YouTube becomes better and better – and I seriously doubt copyright reform is on the way. Not to mention the stupid exclusivity idea companies have rather than claiming videos on YouTube and letting them prosper there.

  4. @Peter It’s not that copyright law is retarded, it’s just that the content owners have a jurassic sensibility when it comes to sharing content. MTV will never again be able to monetize the clip of Kanye losing it and yet they fail to capitalize on this found nugget during the news life cycle. It’s just poor work on their part.

    @Kevin. Great post. My old friends at Metacafe have been vying to become the agnostic search engine you are looking for by aggregating videos from other sites (such as YouTube) into their search results and crowdsourcing the metadata through their wiki program to reduce duplicates and make everything more findable. I don’t know how successful they have been, but I’d love to hear what you and your readers think and whether you even knew that they were doing this.

  5. Oh dear. I got smarter from these comments. Seriously. Even Sukatra’s. Peter- as Juan my friend said, “you put me to think,” and Daniel… what are you doing now!? I forgot it was Metacafe Daniel. 🙂 Brad- twitter search fer video? Huh?

  6. I woke up today at 8:45 and had to be in a class across town by 9:10 for a quiz. I got up in a panic and ran to my closet to get dressed and stubbed my toe on the door and broke my little toe. I yelled out a “Oh fuck!” and then threw on clothes, brushed my teeth and ran down to hop in a taxi. I just barely made it to class on time and as I sat down to take the quiz I realized it was on everything except what I actually studied. School blows!!!

    Oh yeah.. regarding the post…. TLTR.

  7. Let’s not forget that MTV = Viacom, and therefore any YouTube exposure = the devil.

    What should they have done? The second they saw the buzz going on, pick up the phone and call the YouTube staff and authorize them to put ads and monetize all content verified as using this particular footage. They can do this with songs now, no reason it can’t happen with clips.

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