AOL Unveils Robust Video Portal

Since its acquisition of video search engine Singingfish nearly three years ago, AOL has dabbled in online video search and content distribution. Now, as the beleaguered company shifts towards an ad-supported rather than subscription-based business, it has unveiled a full-fledged foray into the exploding world of Web video.

Reports this morning positioned the AOL Video beta launch as a direct competitor to CGM video behemoth YouTube. However, AOL’s new offering is more about big media broadcast programming than small-time amateur uploads. The portal, set to go live later this week, will provide over 45 video channels from content partners including A&E Television Networks’s A&E Network and The History Channel, MTV Networks’s Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, TV Guide and Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Procter & Gamble, Kraft and Mercedes Benz will be among the initial advertisers to run ads within AOL Video. The firm will offer pre-roll and mid-roll ads as well as banners running alongside the video player, according to AOL Spokesperson Jaymelina Esmele. The number of in-stream ads “will be significantly less than what you’d see on television,” she added.

“The majority of the content is free and ad-supported,” continued Esmele, who explained that AOL is “allowing content owners to have a choice in how they want to offer content.” All content from MTV Networks, for instance, will be accessible only to paying customers, while shows from Spanish-language kids’ programming producer Sorpresa will be offered on a free and paid basis.

The array of TV shows, news clips, music videos and movie trailers available includes Biography Channel’s “Mysteries of the Bible,” Expo TV’s product reviews, The N’s “Degrassi,” MTV2’s “WonderShowzen,” TNT’s “The Closer,” Warner Bros. Entertainment’s “The Flintstones,” and soap operas from Procter & Gamble Productions’s Classic Soaps channel.

In addition to searching its own video pool, the portal’s search engine will also provide results listings from other video sites such as Yahoo, Google Video, YouTube and iFilm. The company claims its search engine, built using Singingfish’s and Truveo’s technology, will track down video results other search engines cannot through its “Visual Crawling” capability. Users can also find video through the site’s programming guide.

The portal’s answer to YouTube and other CGM-fueled video sites is its UnCut video feature which allows users to upload, share and comment on videos, as well as send them to mobile devices. In the fall, AOL said it will enable site developers to integrate AOL’s video search and other features on their own sites.

According to a May Hitwise report, AOL Video accounts for 4 percent of video search site market share, compared to YouTube’s 43 percent, MySpace Videos’s 24 percent and MSN Video Search’s 9 percent.

In March, AOL acquired broadband video ad management and serving company Lightningcast, as a complement to its Advertising.com ad network division. Also in March, AOL officially launched its In2TV ad-supported broadband video site featuring Warner Bros. Entertainment content.

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