The Dr Who Effect on Google Search Trends

Yesterday we had a presentation at the OU from George Entwistle (Controller of Knowledge Commissioning) and Simon Nelson (Controller of Multiplatform Commissioning) about the BBC Multiplatform strategy. I don’t think anything was mentioned that was not for public consumption, except perhaps for a couple of future concepts that I hadn’t already picked up from the various BBC blogs, but the implications were not to blog, so I won’t…

That said, here’s one of the things that quite amused me – an observation by Simon Nelson about the significant effect that Doctor Who has on Google Search Trends:

Do you see that big spike in search volumes in April? Any ideas what caused it…?

[Arghhhh, sometimes, I so need to be able to do split screen screen captures in my browser. anyone know how? Ah sod it…
<frameset rows="30%, 70%">
<frame src="<?php echo $_GET['url']; ?>">
<frame src="<?php echo $_GET['url']; ?>">

and this bookmarklet:
should do the trick…]

So here’s what caused the search term spike…

Here’s another – “Agatha Christie”:

Any ideas about what might have caused the May spike?

Here are the broadcast dates for another Doctor Who, Series 4 episode:

Using the Google Insights for Search tool, we can actually tunnel down a little more on when the searche volume blip occurred:

(Apparently, things like Merlin also produced a bump… If you find some more, why not at them to Trendspotting, with an explanation of what caused the temporary upsurge in search traffic volume on Google for a particular search term?;-)

Another observation Simon made was that Google News didn’t know what cause the spike – but the BBC did…

So I’m thinking that a neat little mashup might be to add a pulse line – about where the news volume box is on Google trends – that shows a pulse corresponding to dates on which BBC programmes are broadcast that can be found using the search trends search terms.

That is, take a search phrase (“pompeii” or “agatha christie” and run it through the BBC programme catalogue; pull out the transmission dates of the programmes that the search term throws up; plot a heartbeat corresponding those transmission dates in a window beneath the Google trends data, so by eye you can spot potential correlations between search volumes and programme transmissions.

Alternatively, a trace could be run against volumes of web traffic using those search terms on the BBC website, or audience figures for the programmes that are turned up using those search terms…

(Are there any easy-to-use correlation tools out there on the public web, I wonder, that will try to find correlations between two different time series?)

Why’s this interesting – because in the race for eyeballs, if you know what’s likely to be driving traffic on a particular future date, you can put some content out there in advance to try to capture some that traffic…

It might also be interesting to try looking for trends in programme names on Twitter (using something like Twist, maybe, although I’m guessing that tweet volumes for programme names may be too low to register? Which is maybe where having programme hashtags comes in?)

[UPDATE: BBC programmes on iPlayer buzztracking – Shownar]

PS Simon also mentioned this video that went viral, which is too good not to share – bit of green screen magic: How to recreate the D-Day landings with 3 people:

PPS did y’all see the Inside Today video about what goes on behind the scenes on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme?

Heh heh…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

5 thoughts on “The Dr Who Effect on Google Search Trends”

  1. My kids watch Doctor Who over here, though obviously not on schedule. But because they do get very interested in the subjects I think it would be wonderful if decent OER were tied to subjects portrayed, particularly if someone was able to move them into the subject via reference to the plot.

    This is both so that they understand that Queen Victoria was a real person, and that she didn’t found Torchwood…

    Amazing graphs though….really points to the fact we think too separately about education and entertainment sometimes.

    1. One of the points made in the presentation was how to provide meaningful content wrappers around programmes that led viewers e.g. to associated documentaries. Each programme page could act as a hub linking out to related content – both from the BBC itself and also from 3rd parties (such as OER content, maybe).

  2. I’m pretty sure the Timewatch d-day landings bit used a cast of four actors not three – but they fooled me when I watched the programme when it went out as I thought they’d found some historical footage. Am I gullible or what?

  3. OK, I’m talking rubbish. I was even fooled by my memory it was just three actors/graphic designers.

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