To give Bing a boost, Microsoft's bringing in the muscle of its modest entertainment empire. New features on the Bing search engine allow users to stream music, watch videos and play games all within the Bing domain. The changes are going live now, though some features will take days or weeks to appear.
For music, Bing now takes a page from Google and streams more than 5 million tracks directly from the browser. For example, a search for "Lady Gaga" brings up four tracks powered by Zune, along with a link for lyrics. Users can listen to entire songs once, then 30-second samples after that. In addition to streaming music, Bing also lists concerts and news atop the usual list of search results.
Searching for certain television shows also returns links to full episodes. A search for NCIS, one of the shows that Bing now hosts on its own domain, returns a four thumbnail video links above the fold, each leading to a full episode. Microsoft says it's also working to provide local TV listings, which should go live in a couple of weeks.
Gamers will also get a helping hand if they search for specific titles in Microsoft's online gaming portal. For instance, a search for "Bejeweled" brings up a short description of the game, a tiny screenshot and a link to "Play Now."
Microsoft also added theatre listings and other information for planning a movie night, but movies are notably absent.
"This has become a full-on war. I'm not too sure it can get any hotter," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group. "Microsoft is trying to make Bing ever more capable. The goal is to get you to live within their search engine and not go to any other sites, certainly not Google. The more you can do with Bing, the less likely you are to wander someplace else like Google. It's textbook customer containment."
Microsoft's Bing could use a boost in its competition with long-dominant Google. Despite Microsoft's hefty investment of time, R&D and advertising dollars, Bing hasn't made much of a dent in Google's search market share in the year that Bing has been on the market. Google has been hanging tough, grabbing more than 71% of all US searches in April. That was a 2% increase over its numbers in March, according to a report from Hitwise, an online traffic monitor.
Bing, which is in third place behind Microsoft and Yahoo, saw its own numbers slip 2% in April, reaching a 9.43% share for the month.
"This week's move is a good one for Bing," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "I think these new features are good choices for their initial rollout, particularly the video search. With a single search, users can see pages of thumbnail videos that relate to their search terms. Plus, they can see the videos play without leaving the Bing page, which helps users sift through the results and find exactly what they want."
If Microsoft continues to innovate and execute well, it just might start chipping away at some of Google's substantial market lead, Olds said.
The analysts were in agreement that Bing's innovation will push Google to do the same. And that, they say, can only mean good things for users.
"Bing's design choices have already had a big impact on Google," said Hadley Reynolds, an analyst at market research firm IDC. "The most obvious is Google's belated introduction of a left rail similar to Bing's this past May, and their increasing integration of rich media and best bets into the interface. Now Bing is moving the goal post further with these June enhancements. I expect to see an ongoing series of changes to the core searcher experience from both Google and Microsoft continue through the next couple of years and spawn a counterpart competition in the mobile search experience."
Jared Newman at PCWorld also contributed to this report