WCET, Cincinnati's public television station, has an excellent up-front video streaming implementation on its web site about which I posted back in March, Its CEO is a good friend who wrote me earlier this month concerned that AOL was carrying WCET videos (old ones, not even on their new site) without an executed agreement.
So I checked and found ours (KWSU) there, and so did WGBH. Further digging, however, revealed that AOL (actually its Singingfish unit) had searched the web for video links and "deep linked" them on the AOL video page. In other words, AOL did not upload the video from our sites to theirs, it just found publicly accessible links on and proceeded to link to them. AOL provides a thumbnail, title, length, and the domain at which it found the link. AOL also provides ads on the results page (Discover Card tonight), so it's making some money from these links to our content.
Since this communication, Microsoft quietly added video search to its Windows Live Beta search offering, so I checked it also. In its current incarnation at least, Microsoft has no ads on the results pages. It gives approximately the same results in a handful of tests I made, but gives a little less information about each piece. For example, to find out the domain of the site on which it resides, you will need to hover your cursor over the link.
The ethics and even legality of deep linking has been controversial (e.g., Ticketmaster vs. Microsoft in 1997-99), though it's cooled down considerably since the advent of blogging. Nearly all blogs (Technorati is tracking 52.6 million of them) practice deep linking. In fact, several of the links in this post are "deep links." Because of that, many site owners are finding that it does more good (contributing to Google PageRank, for example) than harm (bypassing ads on a site's home page). These major search engines will generate way more traffic for our content than its home page can bring in on its own.
Still, the desire to control content we produce runs deep within the television industry, so it's bound to stir things up as more people realize, as my friend and I did, how some video sites are accessing content (others, including Blinkx, Google, and Open Media Network require uploading video, so the producer retains control). Another consideration is that, in the case of media files, deep linking also means direct linking. So your bandwidth costs are going to be impacted by links you don't control. But then, arguably for us public broadcasters, that's just a measure of the public service you're doing with our programming.
I'd be really interested to hear how others feel about this? Leave a comment below. --Dennis