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Finding online video -- the OPG

Modern_feed_logoThe Internet certainly beats conventional TV when it comes to the quantity of video offered. Finding something worth watching is another matter. TiVo and Digeo's Moxi set the gold standard for TV program guides; their EPGs make it easy to sift through thousands of hours of programming to find something appealing. I haven't seen anything that's quite so useful for video online, but elements of an online program guide are emerging around the Net. Most take the form of media players with channels of aggregated content combined with the ability to find and retrieve programs, such as VeohTV, Miro and the recently released Adobe Media Player. There also are standalone indexes, such as OVGuide and new entrant Modern Feed.

Veoh_logo_2The basic challenge when it comes to developing a guide to online video is the lack of metadata. The companies that supply data for TV program guides (among them Tribune, which owns this blog) include leading actors' names, plot summaries, genres and other information that can help viewers winnow the listings down to subsets they might be interested in. The same kind of information might be available for many online videos, but not in a standardized way. So developers of online video guides have a hard time creating indexes that can, say, list cooking shows on the Net (or, better yet, all the cooking-related shows and segments of shows), Westerns or detective shows.

Miro_logo Modern Feed compensates by grouping programs into 76 categories , such as "Cooking" and "Crime and Punishment" (sorry, no Westerns). Each category draws programs from across the Web. "Crime and Punishment," for example, includes "Dexter" from Showtime, "CSI: Miami" from CBS, "24" from Fox and crime-oriented segments from NBC's "Dateline." That's a more useful approach than what the rest offer -- an array of TV-like channels, each one stocked with programs from a single source. For instance, among Veoh's 188 channels are ones for CBS, NBC and Fox, along with a catch-all channel for TV shows from all of the above. OVGuide is even more limited. It's essentially a gateway to a huge assortment of online video sites, many of which are themselves aggregators of video (much of it bootlegged). Once you've found a program you like, the Adobe Media Player, Veoh and Miro will automatically collect new episodes for you. The latter two will also recommend shows, based on what you've watched or searched for, respectively. 

Each guide also provides a search function. How helpful it is, though, depends on the size of the catalog searched. The search function in Miro (which requires you to download and use its client software, as does VeohTV) has the largest reach -- it's the only one that retrieves clips from YouTube, along with about half a dozen other sources in addition to its own 4,008 channels. (VeohTV offers selections from YouTube in a "Best of YouTube" channel.) Searches on most of the guides return a hodgepodge of results because they're fairly blunt instruments. The exception was Modern Feed, which did a remarkably good job filtering out extraneous listings. Searching for "crime," for example, yielded links to crime shows as well as episodes of other types of programs that had a crime theme. (Modern Feed also indexes only authorized video streams, as does the Adobe Media Player. Miro and VeohTV are more tolerant of user-uploaded clips of questionable provenance.) A similar search on Miro returned links to countless videos with some tenuous link to crime -- gangster rappers, for example, or news segments.

Part of the charm of Miro and VeohTV, though, is that their search results are influenced by serendipity and unexpected associations. And if you know exactly what you're looking for, search can be a satisfyingly powerful option. Type "cooking veal" into the VeohTV or Miro search boxes, and you'll get dozens of cooking-show segments featuring veal recipes. You'll also find links to a clip or two that will make you swear off the meat, but that's the Internet for you.

UPDATE -- I expanded the penultimate graf of this post this morning to clarify the YouTube references.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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