TV News Search and Borrow: The Newest Technology That Could Transform Internet Media


A website known for preserving working copies of some of the internet's earliest websites has set its sights on an even more ambitious project: making television news — everything from local “Eyewitness News” and all the way up to cable news shout-fests — completely searchable.

The Internet Archive, brainchild of the eponymous San Francisco non-profit, has unveiled a new service that will allow users to search the closed-captioning transcripts of every national news program from 20 channels dating back to 2009, with 30-second video clips included to provide context.

The free service, called “TV News Search and Borrow” launched Monday, is built on a system originally intended to provide visual aids to viewers with impaired hearing and boasts ambitious plans to add broadcasts from as far back as 2002.

Although this newest resource is sure to excite political fact checkers, researchers and journalism critics previously price-limited out of similar media monitoring services, this new searchable archive could potentially unleash ripple effects far afield of politics. However, the unclear relationship between the project and broadcasters, the tattered history of similar efforts and the disruptive nature of online video suggest that success is anything but assured.

According to the Archive, former CBS News president Andrew Heyward was quoted calling the service one you’d have to “See…to believe…-and even then you may not. By contrast, in an article posted to the Wall Street Journal Monday, representatives from the news divisions of ABC, NBC, CBS CNN and FOX all declined to comment on the newly launched service with some officials describing talks with the Archive as “ongoing.”

A host of services and databases perform television media monitoring and offer access to television transcripts through subscription databases, though several companies have tried and failed at launching similar services aimed at a broader market. The Journal mentioned Redlasso, a now obscure for-profit website and video content engine whose earlier a attempts were effectively destroyed by a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by NBC and FOX. It didn't mention similarly ambitious attempts by much larger outfits however.

Before purchasing YouTube, in 2005 Google launched “Google Video” a service that originally   included the ability to search closed captioning archives of local news programs. Results appeared alongside thumbnail images of the relevant content. Yahoo later attempted to follow suit.

Although Google's “Video” efforts were quickly overshadowed by the acquisition of YouTube, its forays into “auto-captioning” and user-created captions of user-submitted video on both sites and its successful, though sometimes controversial aggregation of news content through “Google News” illustrate some of the ways that indexing and captioning efforts can prove beneficial beyond the field of electoral politics.

Currently, most broadcast news segments from local and national programs are available online, usually accompanied by “remixed” text summaries, sometimes optimized for search engines, that closely mirror news scripts. For live discussion programs, (whose off-the-cuff remarks and the diversity of opinionated voices provide fodder for historical researchers and political analysts alike) such “transcripts” can be harder to find.

This vast new trove of data encompassing more of these “less scripted” programs doesn't just create the potential for more thorough and cost-effective public oversight of the media and public figures, it also places a renewed focus on the necessary expansion of closed captioning services to online video.

It wasn't until the 1990 Television Decoder Circuitry Act that the television industry took coordinated action to make Closed Captioning available on new TV sets without separate set-top boxes. In a twist, research from that era indicated that in addition to aiding the deaf, English language learners were some of the biggest users of the service.

Recent bipartisan legislation passed in 2010 and FCC rules scheduled to take effect September 30 aimed for similar advancements in the rapidly expanding field of internet video where captioning hadn't previously been required. Some sites, like Hulu moved quickly to embrace customizable closed captioning options for television shows before they were mandated (despite having a generous transition period), but in many venues news clips in general and Spanish language programming in particular lag far behind.

Television programs like PBS’ Newshour (simultaneously broadcast online via Ustream) have also embraced tools like Amara to provide community powered subtitles of major campaign events to an international audience.

It may be too early to accurately predict what if any effects “TV News Search and Borrow” will have over the long term. Like Vanderbilt's TV News Archive, users will still need to order a DVD or visit in person to view full segments related to their query unimpeded.

One thing is certain however. With its straightforward controls and potential for future development TV News Search and Borrow is a tool worth looking in on today and possibly bookmarking for the future.

MSNBC (Now NBC New) was the first news outlet to report on Sarah Palin's neologism "refudiate."