Google Goes to the Movies

Leveraging the buzz around this weekend’s 77th Annual Academy Awards, yesterday Google launched its new movie search feature. The offering can be accessed through the main Google search page via personal computers, mobile phones and wireless devices that use short-message service.

Analysts said making movie showtimes available is yet another advantage that helps Google compete with search rivals Yahoo and MSN.

In addition to rental recommendations, local theaters and show times for current films, the new search function allows users to look for movie-related information by title, actor, director, genre, famous lines or even obscure plot details.

Clever with Keywords

If, for example, users can’t remember the name of that Tom Hanks movie in which the main character becomes best friends with a volleyball, they can simply type in “Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball” and Google will pull up the film title “Cast Away.”

“Red pill, blue pill. Ship hits iceberg. One ring to rule them all. If you love movies, you know which films these phrases refer to,” said Google associate product manager Jess Lee in a statement. “Now, thanks to our new movie feature, Google Web search knows too.”

Keep on Competing

Kevin Lee, CEO of search engine marketing firm Did-It, told TechNewsWorld that Google had little choice but to add a movie search function in order to stay competitive with Yahoo Movies and its push into entertainment-related services.

“Google is looking for anything that adds stickiness to its engine,” Lee said. “The company wants to make sure that people think about Google for just about anything. Entertainment is a hot sector for search and Google wants its fair share. That’s why the company recently added video search capabilities. The movie search function is just the next step.”

Searching for Profits

With online advertising staging a comeback and portals positioned to profit, the search engine wars are heating up. Consider the prize: Internet advertising totaled nearly US$2.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2004, a record-breaking figure according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Estimates for the full-year 2004 totaled just under $9.6 billion, a 32 percent increase over 2003.

“Google has been very resistant to being labeled a portal,” Lee said. “But the company has been taking a few steps recently that could be interpreted as portal-like. The ability to look up movie information is a portal-related functionality.”

What’s next for Google? Lee predicts more activity around local search. That’s a safe bet, especially with America Online launching its new local search service, dubbed AOL Local Search, today.

Analysts have said that whether Google continues to move in the portal direction by adding real estate and job search sections remains to be seen, but what is certain is that both those categories drive advertising revenue and, like all search engines, Google is exploring new functions and services to leverage those opportunities.

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