Google, Yahoo Both Fail At Moneyballing Oscar Predictions

Both Google and Yahoo used search data to create their own Oscar ballots. Turns out, their predictions were terribly wrong. At best, Google may have correctly predicted Meryl Streep winning, depending on how you read things. But overall, neither of them really got the winners right.

Google’s predictions are here; Yahoo’s here. Let’s see how they did!

Best Picture

  • Google: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (or The Artist, Midnight In Paris)
  • Yahoo: War Horse
  • Winner: The Artist

What went wrong here? With Google, it’s actually hard to know what it was predicting. It narrowed things down to a group of four pictures, then said that in past years, the “underdog” film in search popularity won:

If the underdog trend holds this year, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close could be our surprise winner. If we go strictly by search popularity, however, The Artist or Midnight in Paris have the best chances—among our group of four, they’re currently blowing the competition out of the water.

With Yahoo, its predictions relied on what was searched the most. The headline to its post went for War Horse based on this, even though one of its entertainment editors wasn’t convinced:

“‘War Horse’ seems to be the fan favorite, but this is a competitive category,” said Thelma Adams, contributing editor for Yahoo! Movies. “‘Hugo’ has broad appeal, but at the end of the night I think ‘The Artist’ has the best shot this year. ‘The Help’ is also a frontrunner, but it is showing a little bit of weakness as it was not nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.”

Best Actor

  • Google: George Clooney (or Gary Oldman)
  • Yahoo: Brad Pitt
  • Winner: Jean Dujardin

As before with Google, it didn’t clearly come out with a single prediction. But the two it ended up waffling on at the end, neither were selected:

The pattern emerging over the past few years is that the winner is generally in the middle of the pack in terms of searches and has relatively steady search volume throughout the year. First-time nominee Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) fits that bill this year, but so does George Clooney (The Descendants). Maybe it will finally be George’s year to win Best Actor.

Yahoo’s, relying on search popularity, also failed. So did its entertainment editor:

“Brad Pitt is winning when it comes to searches, but I don’t think ‘Moneyball’ is going to win him the Oscar this year,” says Adams. “Clooney, on the other hand, wants it and I think he will get it. And, if I just went for performances, I’d vote for Gary Oldman, who is such a complete chameleon.”

Best Actress

  • Google: Rooney Mara or Meryl Streep
  • Yahoo: Rooney Mara
  • Winner: Meryl Streep

I want to say that Google managed to nail it here, but it’s is literally impossible to know who it was predicting:

Among this year’s nominees, Rooney Mara is the clear breakout star, with a huge surge in search volume this past December for the young lead in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. However, it’s Meryl Streep who has the highest regional interest in NYC and while Rooney is popular in LA, she’s even more popular in San Francisco. So it could be her name that is announced when the envelope is opened—or not.

Google seems to go for Meryl Streep, but then it doesn’t explain if any of that regional interest was helpful in predicting winners in the past. And is it saying Rooney was more popular in San Francisco, or is that a reference to Streep? The pronoun use is unclear. And was San Francisco a big predictor in the past or just some throw-away fact?

As for Yahoo, Meryl came fourth on the list of most searched nominees. Nor did Yahoo’s entertainment editor get it right:

“This will be a close call, and not for Mara, my vote is Viola Davis, just barely edging out Meryl Streep.”

Maybe next year, search engines! See the full list of the winners at The Oscars site here (images above come from there).

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Search & Society: General | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • ardash.k

    In these cases, it’s hard to make inferences from search trends, especially when the results are decided by panels rather than popular votes. Our prediction game (which included only selected categories of the Oscars) actually did a better job, and its predictive value is increasing as the number of players grows.
    Here is the set of Oscars predictions we made

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