Will The Future of Search be Televised?

This column, originally published in MediaPost, came out last week, but I forgot to blog it, and given that it’s about the future, it should still be relevant for a few more days. It continues in the extended entry.

Would you believe the next Google-killer is coming from Samsung?

Samsung doesn’t refer to its See’N’Search set-top box as a Google
killer; that’s generally a phrase used by the media to describe some technology
you’ll never hear from again. What Samsung is doing actually doesn’t interfere
with Google’s current business model in the slightest, though it could spell
competition going forward.

Here’s how the blog Mashable
describes Samsung’s program
:

"The new See’N’Search is a set-top box that reads the closed
captions on a television show, as well as listens for keywords, to search for
related Internet articles to the content you are currently watching. Say you’re
watching the news and they do a story about the President; links to information
on the President will appear at the bottom of the screen. For programs such as
scripted shows, the system will pull up information on the actors as well as
whatever they are discussing in the show. Furthermore, while it may be annoying
to have information covering the bottom portion of your screen, you can instead
choose to have any requested info show up on handheld devices or a computer
connected to the local network."

The write-up links to Engadget, which posted a six-minute
video demo
from a Samsung exec. It’s a good preview of where interactive TV
is heading. It’s also an illustration of how much of the future of search has
nothing to do with searching. It’s a future built on keywords without queries.
It’s a form of user-modified discovery where the device presents the possible
options, updated in real time, and the user drills down to access the content,
such as an article or an online video, which then appears on the TV screen (or
another device).

As with any new technology, the biggest questions revolve around
how people will actually use it. Multitasking is nothing new, so will people
embrace the See’N’Search’s guided prompts when they can generally just as
easily conduct a self-directed search online while watching TV? What types of
TV programs will the See’N’Search best complement? Are there certain types of
consumers who’d find it especially useful? Will it be a sought after add-on for
television at all, given how TV is generally a lean-back experience and the Web
is generally lean-forward?

I’ve found myself conducting a lot of searches lately related to
TV programming. Throughout primary season, I’ve kept the TV tuned to news
channels while trying to validate the reports on different news sites. During
the Super Bowl, I watched the game in high definition while visiting sites like
Tide’s mytalkingstain.com (I even later made my
own version of the commercial
). This past Sunday night, watching the
premiere of "Knight Rider" on NBC, I checked the Internet Movie
Database to see if one of the police officers shared the name of eMarketer CEO
Geoff Ramsey (in turns out it was Sheriff Ramsey, who it turns out is nowhere
near as nice a guy as Geoff).

Would the Sight’n’See have made it easier to find some of this
content? It might have saved me the trouble of searching for Ramsey’s full
name, but generally it would have offered extra information that wasn’t what I
really needed. Yet maybe I’m going about this entirely the wrong way.
See’N’Search is about discovery. A much more appropriate analogy is when I was
sick over the weekend and searched for cold and flu symptoms, which led me to
WebMD, where I clicked some of the most viewed articles on the site, including
one on the germiest places in America  (no, the Ad:Tech exhibit hall isn’t
one of them) and another on eight things no one tells you about marriage
(thanks to this
article
, I know I don’t have to get my way all the time). I would never
have sought out these articles, especially since they’re originally from Redbook, but they
made for passable infotainment.

That’s why the See’N’Search is a misnomer. It’s more like
Watch’N’Discover, a way to present content that you’re happy to have but
wouldn’t have searched for. In that way, it doesn’t even preempt your searching
so much as it deepens your engagement. That’s precisely why media companies,
cable operators, and advertisers will want to discover more ways this
technology can be used.