Finding videos on the Internet is not nearly as easy to do as turning on a television set and flipping through the channels.
Web users are, for the most part, left to dig up videos on their own. There are thousands of niche video sites offering user-generated, studio-produced and pirated videos. Some are shorter clips lasting a few minutes, others are full-length shows.
OVGuide.com, a comprehensive search engine for more than 2,000 video sites, tries to make sense of it all. The company boasts that it's the closest thing the Web has to TV Guide.
The site is the brainchild of Dale Bock, a software engineer with a Ph.D. in computer science. "I just realized that there's no place where you can go to find videos, other than bookmarking them yourself as you came across them," said Bock, president of the company.
So that's what he did two years ago. He began bookmarking video sites, starting with those related to his own interests science, technology and history. Bock then aggregated them on the domain name OVGuide.com.
David Bohnett, who became a tech investor after selling Geocities to Yahoo for $3.5 billion in 1999, took over the company as chief executive and revamped the site last year.
Since then, traffic has ballooned, from an average of 1.4 million unique visitors a month to 12 million. This makes the site the third-fastest-growing Web property on the Internet, according to comScore, a Web tracking company.
OVGuide indexes top video sites by popularity and category, such as movies, anime and political shows in response to a growing demand for TV on computers. More than 20 percent of Americans watched some prime time television on the computer during the spring season, up from 6 percent in the fall of 2007, according a recent report by Integrated Media Measurement, a San Mateo research firm.
Some challenges lie ahead when it comes to cashing in on this viewership. Monetizing the 12 million monthly visitors would be easy if viewers were staying on the site to watch streaming media, said analyst Daniel Taylor at the Yankee Group. But since the site is a portal, the audience is just passing through. That makes it relatively difficult to build a revenue stream.
The site works like this:
When a user types in a video title, it shows a list of search results that appear based on vetting by OVGuide editors. Once the user clicks on one of the search results, the user leaves the site to watch the video somewhere else. This means ad revenue goes to other sites. OVGuide cashes in only for the duration of time the user is searching on the site.
"They're leading traffic to other sites," Taylor said. "Since advertising is sold elsewhere, I don't see how OVGuide will get access to those revenues."
Up until now, the company wasn't concerned with making money. It focused on creating a solid search base and securing robust traffic. Recently, OVGuide hired its first vice president of sales to begin monetizing the site.
It will begin with sponsored links on the site, movie trailers with advertisements, and a marketplace for producers to premiere original content.
Bohnett has a track record of spotting successful tech startups. He was the initial investor in Stamps.com, which went public in 1999; LowerMyBills.com, which sold to Experian for $400 million; and NetZero, a predecessor to United Online.
Bohnett also revamped Xdrive, a company near bankruptcy, and sold it to AOL for $30 million in 2005. Bock was a senior programmer at Xdrive, and pitched OVGuide to Bohnett in 2006, the year the site made Time Magazine's list of one of the top 10 Web sites.
"I invest in companies that can only exist on the Internet and ones that fill a need," Bohnett said. "That's exactly what OVGuide is. There's a booming demand for online videos right now."
Bohnett immediately moved OVGuide into a vacant retail space on Beverly Drive, next door to his office. "For a while there, it was just Dale in an empty storefront," he said.
The company then invested in hardware and software, and developed patent-pending algorithms that search other video sites and keep up with changing content.
OVGuide serves as an index to sites on the Web, which means it doesn't have to compete with sites such as Veoh, backed by Time Warner and former Disney chief Michael Eisner, and Hulu, created by NBC Universal and News Corp. It simply directs traffic to those destination sites, based on the viewer's search specification for a desired video or type of video.
But from the user's perspective, it's hard to differentiate OVGuide from any other directory-type video site, such as Veoh, said Taylor. "I don't think your average viewer cares where you're watching the programming. It's a click, that's it."
For David Rips, director of the media and entertainment practice at Deloitte Consulting, aggregation sites such as OVGuide are an example of the chaotic world of online video programming, not a solution.
No matter how sophisticated a video search engine, it is only as good as the video sites it is indexing. Because downloading videos is still a developing trend, there are many sites with pirated content or poor-quality videos.
"I don't know where to go if I want to download a video," Rips said. "If I know it's an NBC or a Fox show, then I can look for it on Hulu, but that's only if I'm knowledgeable. If it's a movie, a lot of the sites are illegal. From a consumer's perspective, it's incredibly chaotic."
Founded: July 2006
Core Business: Aggregating online video sites, video search
Employees in 2008: 12 (up from 8 in 2007)
Goal: To become the leading search engine for online videos and video sites
Driving Force: Web users who want to find online videos quickly
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