Can a search engine tell you the outcome of your favorite TV competition before it even happens?
Microsoft believes it can. The company this morning is launching a new feature for its Bing search engine that analyzes search queries and data from social networks to predict the winners and losers of television shows in which the outcome is based on a popular vote: The Voice, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.
It’s the beginning of a broader effort by Bing to use its available data to predict the outcome of events. U.S. elections are another possibility down the road, a Microsoft spokesman says. (Look out, Nate Silver!) But beyond popularity contests, the company could eventually expand into predicting other outcomes, possibly even sports.
“We’re starting here with reality shows and we’ll figure out where to go next,” said Bing director Craig Beilinson in an interview with GeekWire about the new feature.
The reality show predictions feature can be accessed starting today by going to bing.com and searching, for example, for “The Voice Predictions.” Here’s what Bing is predicting for the April 22 episode as of 8 a.m. this morning. (Look out, Delvin and Dani!)
The idea, of course, is to expose fans of these shows to Bing and hope that they’ll stick around to conduct more searches, helping Microsoft gain more traction against market leader Google.
But how accurate will the predictions be? We’ll see this week, but Beilinson says the Bing team is confident based on its testing internally against past results on the shows. “We wouldn’t be releasing this if we didn’t feel really strongly about our work so far,” he said.
Beilinson acknowledged the possibility that some of Bing’s predictions could influence the outcome of the shows by motivating fans of contestants at risk of being eliminated to rally for votes. (Proving Bing wrong in the process.)
One irony here is that Microsoft just recently stopped offering an airfare price predictions feature that was based on a sophisticated algorithm acquired with its past purchase of Seattle startup Farecast. Microsoft described that move as “a business decision” to focus on areas of greater need for travelers.