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New Sonic Foundry search engine finds words, phrases in video presentations

Madison, Wis. - Sonic Foundry's introduction of advanced search capabilities on its Mediasite product is an attempt to meet a market need for identifying and retrieving rich-media content, but the company still isn't sure how it will impact future sales.

The Madison-based business is marketing the enhanced Mediasite as the first searchable Website focused on offering expert information via rich media presentations with video, audio, and graphics. While that sounds like differentiating feature that could drive future sales, especially since Mediasite contains almost 13,000 presentations, Sonic Foundry might just be preaching to the converted.

And that's because engaging viewers through search is not a new idea. Sonic Foundry has invested more than $3 million in the development of its advanced search technology over the past 5-1/2 years, and it has made the investment for the benefit of existing Mediasite customers.

“Ironically, it was probably the reason our earliest customers were buying the product from us in the first place,” said Rimas Buinevicius, the company's chief executive. “They had enough faith that we would come up with some sort of [search] function down the road.”

The advanced search capability was developed with a combination of off-the-shelf and customized features, including phonetic search, optical character recognition, language processing, and contextual analysis technology.
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Each component plays a specific role in the advanced search product. Optical character recognition allows for quick word and phrase-spotting within slide content or visual aids. Advanced phonetic search algorithms, coupled with language processing and contextual analysis based on algorithms developed by Sonic Foundry, helps users quickly locate specific spoken words or phrases within a rich-media archive.

“We combined all of that,” Buinevicius explained. “You can't just use speech recognition or character recognition.”

New tangent

In the fourth quarter of 2006, Sonic Foundry reached cash flow positive status, and reported GAAP revenues of $12.6 million, a 52 percent increase in organic growth over 2005. On Feb. 1, it is set to release its results for the first quarter of fiscal 2007, and while there has been no guidance on how advance search will help drive future sales, Buinevicius acknowledged that it should “launch our business on another tangent.”

That would be the audio-visual content management domain. The depth of functionality possible with webcasting includes not only multimodal content search, but also the management of video content libraries with search and retrieval.

Mediasite content includes roughly 250,000 slides and 9,500 hours of audio on topics ranging from career advancement to the treatment of contagious diseases. Its users - an assortment of universities, businesses, and government agencies - use the webcasting and content management system to create and archive presentations.

Buinevicius believes the rapid growth of online video is inspiring greater adoption of multimedia webcasting within corporations and universities. As a result, he said knowledge workers are engaging more fully with rich media content and requiring more efficient tools - like advanced search - to find the information they need.

Changing communication culture

Claire Schooley, a senior analyst for Forrester Research, believes a cultural change is occurring in the way information and knowledge is communicated. While she acknowledged webcasting is a new technology, and few web conferencing products have sophisticated search, she predicts that within three years it will be an essential business productivity tool.

That market evolution will be driven, she said, by the need for learning opportunities and faster communications because of worker globalization and the desire to reach a broader customer base, respectively.

“The ability to search hours of audio for a particular phrase is not something most people believe is even possible today,” Schooley said. “Companies like Sonic Foundry, as early movers in the market, will spark people's interest and, gradually, more and more uses for this technology will emerge.”

Jim Rice, president of the Information Technology Association of Wisconsin, praised Sonic Foundry's willingness to move into uncharted territory. “I think their research and their work is all in the right direction," he said. ”It remains to be seen how the market will react to this."

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