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Hulu Captions Search Captures the Pop Culture Zeitgeist

Did you know that Twitter is now getting twice as much TV air time as Apple’s (s AAPL) iPhone? It’s true, according to Hulu’s new Captions Search, a feature the site launched today as part of its Hulu Labs playground. Captions Search makes it possible to scour thousands of TV episodes from hundreds of shows for specific keywords or phrases. The search results include a clip of the direct context in which a word appeared on the show, as well as a heat map that shows the viewer interest throughout a video.

Captions Search is not only a great way to find a specific episode of a show if you only remember a line or two, it also offers some interesting insights into the ins and outs of TV pop culture.

Granted, Hulu’s Caption Search is somewhat limited, as it only works with shows that are both closed captioned and actually available on the site. in other words: You won’t find any CSI references with the feature, thanks to a long-standing spat between CBS (s CBS) Interactive and Hulu.

However, even with these limitations, Caption Search is already quite impressive. Search for YouTube (s GOOG), for example, and you’ll find The Office’s JK Wedding Entrance Tribute, as well as more than a dozen other clips from shows like Heroes, 30 Rock and The Simpsons.

Facebook is equally popular, and so is Myspace (s NWS), even though it’s somehow telling that the latter now gets mostly referenced on shows like King of The Hill. Still, don’t rule out slightly aged electronic communication methods. E-mail gets about three times as much TV air time as Facebook and Twitter combined. In your face, John C. Dvorak! Also popular: Google (s GOOG), which was mentioned in 30 different TV show episodes currently indexed by Caption Search.

Another popular site is notably absent from Caption Search: Enter the keyword Hulu, and you’ll get zero results. Maybe Hulu isn’t quite the pop culture phenomenon we’d like to think it is?

5 Responses to “Hulu Captions Search Captures the Pop Culture Zeitgeist”

  1. Captions Search sounds like a useful new feature – I’ll be sure to check it out! At the same time, there is a bill in Congress, HR 3101, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009, that would increased closed captioning on the Internet.

  2. It’s good to see Hulu innovating, especially in search and discovery, particularly when we were all waiting for them to break out of their funk and show us original, valuable thinking. Many of us frequently beat ourselves up trying to find the clip that we wanted to show to a friend, family member, or loved one. Among the glittering geekerati of couch potatoedom, what could be a greater asset to one’s synthesized recollection mojo than a search engine like this (apart from the shows that will never have coverage)?

  3. As purveyors of viewer engagement analytics ourselves, we at Skytide spend lots of time coming up with uses for such data. But we never really thought of exposing it to the viewers themselves, such as this new “heat map.” It will be interesting to see how this works out for Hulu. On the one hand, if they don’t allow the viewers to skip any ads, while reducing streaming costs (users will only download the parts of the video they really want to see), it will boost profitability. On the other hand, it might reduce their aggregate viewing time (i.e. eyeball-hours) which might actually degrade what CPM advertisers are willing to pay. Not to mention that they are sharing valuable information about what their audience really likes with the whole world instead of using it to their own competitive advantage. In any case, certainly an interesting experience!