America Online Inc. is acquiring a video search startup that has built technology to more easily find the latest news, sports and other online video offerings.

The acquisition of Truveo Inc., announced Tuesday, underscores the importance of video in drawing visitors to AOL's ad-supported sites, a big component in AOL's year-old strategy of emphasizing free content over its declining access-subscription business.

Terms were not disclosed, but spokesman Nicholas Graham said it was the largest since AOL's purchase of Advertising.com Inc. for $435 million in cash in 2004.

Truveo's seven employees will become part of AOL's video and search team, but will remain at Truveo's offices in Burlingame, Calif.

Online video is highly competitive, with Google Inc. just last week announcing plans to let content owners such as CBS Corp. and the National Basketball Association sell clips through the leading search site.

AOL and Google announced a partnership last month in which Google would, among other things, better integrate AOL's offerings in Google's fledging video service. That deal also involved Google paying $1 billion for a 5 percent stake in AOL.

AOL already has multimedia search technology from Singingfish Inc., a Seattle company the Time Warner Inc. unit acquired in 2003.

With Truveo, AOL gets so-called Visual Crawling technology, which promises to more efficiently look for and index breaking news, sports and entertainment clips from sites like Time Warner's own CNN, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and competitors Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. It also finds user-generated submissions at Ourmedia.org and the likes.

Search engines traditionally rely on software that crawls the Web, analyzes the HTML coding behind Web pages and checks out any links found.

But video sites generally present their material in a way that those crawlers would fail to see, with programming scripts that generate new pages on the fly, said Tim Tuttle, Truveo's chief executive and founder.

Truveo gets around that problem by attempting to download and view the entire page as a visitor would, using all the programming scripts, plug-ins and other tools that a traditional, text-focused search crawler might ignore, Tuttle said.

Doing so, he said, also provides the search engine with more data to describe the video, making searches more relevant.

While Truveo's software continually looks for new video offerings online, other search engines such as Yahoo and Blinkx Inc. already have deals to get the latest feeds directly from major news providers.

But AOL could have an edge by making all the video searchable from one location rather than 15 separate sites, said Gary Price, news editor at the Search Engine Watch industry newsletter.

"I don't know if it's going to blow away the competition," Price said, "but let's put it this way, it's more firepower in their arsenal."

Early this year, The Associated Press is launching an ad-supported online video news network using technology and advertising support from Microsoft. The service will feature about 50 stories per day and be available free to AP's 3,500 newspaper and broadcast members.