Singingfish seeks multimedia content deals

General Manager Karen Howe talks about strategy

America Online is pushing forward with plans to make its multimedia search engine Singingfish a popular online destination, an effort that began in December.

Before then, Singingfish primarily powered audio and video search for third-parties through licensing of its technology. Consumers could run searches on the Web site, but it wasn't designed nor promoted for that type of use.

Since redesigning the site to make it attractive to consumers in December, daily queries on have increased from 700,000 to 800,000.

IDG News Service recently caught up with Singingfish Vice President and General Manager Karen Howe, who talked candidly about her efforts to reach out to content owners -- particularly within parent company Time Warner -- to automate the inclusion of their content in the search engine's index.

Until now, most of the content in Singingfish's index has been captured by sending out its spiders to the Web, but automated feeds accomplish the same with less effort and in a more organized manner.

Beyond automating content feeds, Singingfish is also talking to Time Warner units about its ability to be a platform to package and distribute their content to consumers in various ways that could generate revenue for content owners.

After all, Time Warner owns large producers of television shows, movies and music such as HBO, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Turner Broadcasting System and New Line Cinema. As this type of content gets digitized, its owners are realizing consumers are willing to pay for multimedia just like they do for music.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

IDGNS: Since you're part of AOL, could you take advantage of Time Warner audio/video content and package it in special ways? In other words, as part of the Time Warner family, would it be easier for you to tap into that and strike up deals of that type?

Howe: Every Time Warner business unit is separate and they have to manage their content in what makes the best business sense for them. What makes it easy for us is being part of the same company. I can pick up the phone and I know who to call. Sometimes that's 90 percent of the battle. And the other part is they call me back. That's even better.

So being able to talk to people and discuss the pros and cons of doing an RSS [Really Simple Syndication] feed is so much easier because we're part of the same family. Also, so many of their assets are digitized and they are starting to be much more creative in their approach in terms of promotion and getting the content out to a broader audience; there's a much broader general interest in pursuing that. Because of the relationship we have, the business process to get these agreements done is pretty straightforward.

IDGNS: Will you pursue this type of agreement as a priority?

Howe: Yes, it's definitely a priority to pursue content licensing deals from the standpoint of getting feeds into the index. It grows the index in a very simple, more efficient way. It's less expensive to do it this way than by spidering, which takes up a lot of resources. [With automated feeds] the content provider has more control over what gets surfaced and what doesn't, and how it gets displayed, so it's much better for them also. And it results in a much better end user experience, which is what we're after.

IDGNS: Will deals like this give you an advantage over competitors?

Howe: It gives us a very solid leg up. Because we're in the same entity, we understand their workflow, their business process, [and can offer] different ways of partnering, different ways of displaying the business model. If you're not in the [Time Warner] family, you're not going to get there.

IDGNS: Do those Time Warner units view Singingfish as a potentially good outlet for distributing their content in different ways or with different business models? Or are you not necessarily on their radar screens right now?

Howe: We're in the radar screen. We've done a fair amount of outreach to individuals who run big operations [within Time Warner.]

There's a mindshift that has occurred from "protect the content at all costs and don't let it out." ... to "we have digital [content] and what do we do about it?" If you're talking to the CTOs [chief technology officers] of these organizations, which is what I'm doing, then you're able to intersect at a pivotal point in the whole process. I have the [search engine] platform and it's understandable and it's something they know they absolutely need to participate in because it will contribute towards their business success because this is the way for people to get to the online content. You don't remember which studio released a movie. But if you type in the movie name, which is what you remember, [in a search engine] then you can get to the online content.

IDGNS: Do these Time Warner business units realize Singingfish can help them generate revenue by linking users with the content they're looking for?

Howe: They are in the process of educating themselves very quickly about what's possible for online because they understand that they don't control the channel changer. They understand that the end user does in fact decide what he's going to participate in and when. So the end user controls the access as opposed to a programming model where at 7 p.m. you have to watch this because it's the only time when it's on. The end user is taking more control over when they are accessing content.

IDGNS: Is Time Warner in general also supportive of you also striking this type of deal outside of Time Warner?

Howe: I think they do fundamentally understand that because being an exclusive channel isn't that appealing. You lose your credibility.