One to Watch: VideoSurf

Not a week goes by when Google CEO Eric Schmidt doesn’t wring his hands in public about the problems of monetizing online video. Could it be that algorithms and contextual ad targeting will do the trick, just like they did for web pages? That would be rather convenient, but it hasn’t seemed likely so far.

But on that note, we’ve been looking into a stealthy Bay Area computer vision startup focused on video search called VideoSurf, whose landing page promises it “will soon be able to help you find and discover all the videos you want to watch.”

Peering inside videos is hard stuff, and these guys seem to have been at it for two years with barely a public peep. We’re not sure what’s taking so long. We reached a spokesperson to ask for comment and she said the company would start talking “in the coming months, but not at this point.” According to our sources, the company is funded by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, the founders of Current TV.

VideoSurf’s co-founder and CEO, Lior Delgo, was also co-founder and CEO of FareChase, the travel search company Yahoo bought in 2004. Co-founder and CTO Eitan Sharon is an expert in computer vision coming from the academic sector. His specialties include techniques like multiscale image segmentation, which is supposed to speed up the process of matching the relevant parts of one video still to another.

VideoSurf, which was formerly known as Rexee, is also apparently loaded with computer vision research experts, an assertion LinkedIn reveals to be true.

But consumer-facing video search engines have turned out to be less of a draw than one might expect. It seems that many in the space are now looking at white-label licensing and video fingerprinting as more promising business models than advertising (see our recent story on Divvio, for instance).

VideoSurf, according to our sources, is said to be trying to develop the equivalent of AdSense for video, where it would place contextually relevant ads based on deep knowledge of what is going on in a video. There’s also plenty of people trying to do that, but our sources promise the ones at VideoSurf are smarter. We shall see!

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