Is a big part of search’s future based on content partnerships?

You might think so looking at the recent deals Bing has struck with Encyclopaedia Britannica and Yelp.

Now, the world’s third largest search engine, Yahoo, is getting in on the act. Yesterday, it announced a deal with Getty Images that will see Getty providing Yahoo with access to upwards of 20,000 new photos per day, many of them related to current news. VentureBeat’s Jennifer Van Grove explained:

The spruced up image and video search experience also provides searchers with a full screen viewing option (pictured above) that is supported across web and mobile devices thanks to HTML5 technology. The search results pages feature a new tiled thumbnail viewing experience that displays larger content upon roll-over. In video search, a preview of the video will start playing when the user hovers over it.

Getty’s photos and videos will apparently be included in Yahoo’s SERPs within minutes of them becoming available online generally, and Yahoo will be marking them with a ‘HQ’ icon if they’re in higher resolutions.

This isn’t the first time Yahoo and Getty have teamed up. As Van Grove notes, Yahoo and Getty collaborated before on a Flickr deal. But this is apparently the first time the two companies have inked a search-related pact this close. Given Bing’s recent announcements, and Google’s latest move with Zagat content, it would appear that we now have enough to call a trend.

The big question is whether this is a good thing for the search market. The Google-Zagat relationship is arguably a more problematic arrangement given Google’s ownership of Zagat, but the general idea of search engines teaming up more frequently with publishers and other third party content providers will naturally make some uneasy for obvious reasons.

At the same time, as search engines strive to deliver relevant, timely results, acquiring access to content that may not be available publicly (or may not be available as expeditiously without a partnership) makes a lot of sense.

In the battle between user experience/search quality and perceived conflicts of interest, it seems we should expect user experience and search quality to win the vast majority of the time going forward.