A strange launch at a strange time, and from a strange source: AT&T (NYSE: T) rolled out a beta version of VideoCrawler, an online video search and aggregation engine. The public beta comes about three months after an even softer launch designed to help the company work out VideoCrawler’s kinks, and AT&T partnered with video search tech firm Divvio in its development. Divvio founder and CEO Hossein Eslambolchi is AT&T’s former CTO.
Jim Stapleton, AT&T’s executive director of business development sheds some light on why the telecom giant is pushing into a decidedly foreign (and crowded) market:
— Ad sales for now, but a bigger plan for the future: VideoCrawler currently features display ads…there are no plans for pre- or post-roll units — as AT&T doesn’t own or host the videos after all — and the site doesn’t impact ads currently running on the clips in any way. “Our advertising is extremely straightforward … We’re running display ads to defray some costs, and so that the site can run as a standalone business,” he said. But VideoCrawler is definitely part of a larger digital content strategy for AT&T. “It’s part of our strategy of moving beyond connectivity and into applications,” Stapleton said — a strategy that includes “premium content on all three screens, some of it user-generated and some of it professional.” He said that while there were plans to provide video content on both mobile and AT&T’s U-Verse IPTV platform, the final product might not be branded VideoCrawler (or even AT&T at all). The company already runs a somewhat well-known video site The Blue Room, aimed mainly at its broadband subscribers but open to all.
— On competing with sites like AOL’s Truveo, Pixsy, and others: To be clear, VideoCrawler is not a direct competitor to aggregators like YouTube. Stapleton said that the site was designed to be a search engine “that sits above that layer,” giving users greater access to “long tail” videos that are harder to find elsewhere, and allowing them to really organize them. “They can create bookmarks that tie directly to the video’s metadata, title them and create a collection that can be search and saved by other VideoCrawler users … We also give them view count data, so they can understand where people are accessing their collection from, who’s saving it and which clips are the most popular.”