AOL Buys Audio-Video Clip Search Firm

In a move that could open a new front in the search engine wars, America Online has purchased Singingfish, a search company that focuses exclusively on helping Web surfers find audio and video clips on the Internet and whose customers include Microsoft and RealNetworks.

AOL did not disclose terms of its acquisition of Seattle, Washington-based Singingfish, which employs about 25 people. AOL bought the firm from France-based Thompson Multimedia, which paid US$30 million for the company in 2000. The company will remain in Seattle and will be run as a division of America Online, with current CEO Karen Howe serving as general manager.

Breaking Ground

The move seems to create yet another specialized search category. Most major search engines, including Google and Yahoo, already offer searchers a choice of categories to search within, such as shopping, images and news. AOL also unveiled its own news search service recently, and Microsoft reportedly has found a technology partner to produce one of its own.

AOL said specialization and the growing number of searches being conducted within specific areas reflects the growing sophistication of Web users when it comes to search.

“Consumers have become more savvy searchers,” said Jim Riesenbach, senior vice president of AOL’s search and directional media group. “As a result, they need sophisticated tools to help them easily find exactly what they’re looking for online.”

New and Improved

AOL unveiled the Singingfish acquisition and its integration into the search page used by AOL members along with other enhancements, including a preview of a new local search feature.

That local service will give AOL users access to Web results that are closest to them geographically, with the search function using the surfer’s ZIP code to personalize the results.

To date, AOL has stayed outside of the acquisition frenzy that has raked across the search marketplace, choosing instead to use partnerships with Google and others to provide its members with the most up-to-date search technology.

Partners in Find

In fact, just last month, AOL expanded its agreement with Google. The move likely reflects AOL’s belief that its search features are best suited for its members and are not meant to compete with Yahoo’s and Microsoft’s Web-wide offerings.

“Having good search is a competitive consideration for AOL for different reasons than the others,” Yankee Group analyst Rob Lancaster told the E-Commerce Times.

AOL’s decision to target a video-and-audio-clip search service is no surprise, given that the company has made streaming content a centerpiece of its strategy to differentiate itself and move more of its customer base to its broadband offerings. That migration to high-speed Internet access, in turn, should help AOL leverage its deep pool of Time Warner content, Lancaster noted.

“The pace of big mergers and acquisitions in search has slowed, but the industry still has a lot of changes ahead,” he said.

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