Google Granted Patent on Using What You Watch on TV as a Ranking Signal

I’m going to have to turn up the sound on my TV, and decide carefully what to watch, and test this. It would be very interesting if it works. Is Google clued in to what you are watching on TV? If so, is that through a set top box, or an internet enabled television?

If true, will this change the way that I do keyword research? Will it alter how I create content for the web, or decide upon page titles or meta descriptions? I’m not sure, but I am surprised.

The patent says that it might monitor what’s on TV in your area, and look for queries that might be related to that information. So, if someone searches for “Eagles” and there’s a documentary about the band, the “Eagles” playing on TV in your area, that’s a signal that may influence the search results you receive.

Flowchart from the patent on using TV as a ranking signal

System and method for enhancing user search results by determining a television program currently being displayed in proximity to an electronic device
Invented by Kyle Maddison and Roman Kirillov
Assigned to Google
United States Patent 8,839,303
Granted September 16, 2014
Filed: June 30, 2011


A computer implemented method for using search queries related to television programs. A server receives a user’s search query from an electronic device.

The server then determines, in accordance with the search query and television program related information for television programs available at a location associated with the electronic device during a specific time window, a television program currently being displayed in proximity to the electronic device, wherein the television program related information includes program descriptions for a plurality of television programs being broadcast for the associated location.

We do know that Google Now can listen to TV and identify shows that are presently on:

The Patent does tell us that sometimes people perform queries based upon what they are watching on TV, and it might use information about what TV shows are playing in the location of the viewer to see if they can personalize their query results for that viewer based upon that information. Here’s an example from the patent:

…when the user executes a query for “Porsche” during the same time window a TV program is airing that includes a segment about a particular Porsche model), the search engine returns enhanced search results based on the presumption that the user in question was watching that particular TV program–or that the user in question would be interested in watching that particular TV program.

For example, given that the Porsche model in question is a “911 Turbo,” and that the user executed a search query for “Porsche,” the server can return information about one or more of :

  • 1) the “911 Turbo” model (e.g., a link to information on the website about the “911 Turbo”),
  • 2) Information about the TV program that is currently airing with that segment, and
  • 3) Suggestions of similar programming that is currently airing or airing in the future and that is available to the user.

In this way, implementations provide enhanced search results to viewers of live TV that are relevant to the content of TV programs that they are watching or are likely to be interested in watching.

This could make watching TV a very different experience if you could ask Google questions about the shows you might be watching on TV, and it could give you reasonably good answers.

If Google could give you recommendations about what to watch on TV…

A Google search result with TV viewing recommendations

27 thoughts on “Google Granted Patent on Using What You Watch on TV as a Ranking Signal”

  1. Absolutely amazing!

    Just wondering if this is going to be about product advertisements too on TV? How many people like to turn it off or change channel when a particular product ad is there!

    Not sure why’d they just limit it to TV channels and their programs?

  2. Great post @Bill. If I search for rugby so Google can provide results in the organic search about what television network is showing rugby and in local results we can see its map and location and even we can see its paid results on same the keyword all along? Can this also be happen that we can view the rugby match through Google play and Google TV in future as we are also seeing much changes in internet of things.

  3. Good info – thanks for sharing. Interesting, too, as Google once again pulls ‘offline’ info into online searches.

    Think about the reverse, the ‘confirmation’ part: perhaps this will influence not just searches, but it also might figure into chromecast, youtube etc. recommendations. You watch a certain TV show, confirm that with your searches, and Google can recommend videos on youtube, answering your questions, extending on the topic.

  4. Isn’t that they are trying to control our behavior with such kind of patents Bill? Someday, people will even have a thought which would not affect their professional life.

  5. Seems to me like Google doesn’t want to simply run keywords and provide results; they want understand the “conversation” we’re having with them and deliver results relevant to that conversation. I think they are ultimately hoping to mimic the way humans converse with each other, understanding that if I’m in a conversation with a friend about Porsches and bring up “911”, my friend is not going to note that “911” is the emergency number for the police, as that would be entirely out of context. Ultimately, I think Google wants to take the place of that friend so that they’re so trusted we take their recommendations to heart, especially the paid recommendations.

  6. So has anyone given thought to the fact that if you are listening to TV you it can also hear (record and store) everything around you? Or did I miss something there?

  7. … Is Google clued in to what you are watching on TV? If so, is that through a set top box, or an internet enabled television?

    Based on the permissions granted via each Google App, I think Google may/eventually be able to extract this information simply from a phone/devices microphone, camera, etc..

  8. Hi Nabeel,

    Nothing in the patent says anything about advertisements. If product advertisements were intended to be part of this, the patent would likely say something about them.

  9. Hi Amit

    I don’t think there is an intent to control more of our lives. Instead, this patent seems like it’s aimed at being more helpful to us, by giving us information that may fit more into the context of what someone might be doing when they are searching for something.

  10. Hi Geoff,

    I agree with most of what you wrote. Google does seem to be aiming to be helpful and to provide information when it is needed.

  11. Hi Aamir,

    It looks like this patent tells us that the determination as to whether or not we are watching television is made by matching up our queries with profiles and meta data about shows broadcast in our location are available.

    So, if you look up the time of the game on Google, and then look up some of the players, those queries convey a high probability that you are watching the game.

    The patent is silent on actually detecting in some way that you are actually watch the game, by doing things like having your phone listen in, like the Google Now app that I showed a video from above. Might Google do even more if it knows that you’re viewing the game through Google TV and Google Play? I would suspect that they would offer something even more detailed.

  12. Hi Andreas,

    Very good point. I haven’t looked into Google TV much, or what else they might offer, but I could image that there might be a pretty good and searchable program search and other features that you may not be able to get anywhere else.

  13. Hi Kristine

    As far as I can tell from this patent filing, Google wouldn’t actually be listening in, like they suggested that they might do back in 2007, under a different patent, covered in this article:

    The patent seems to focus instead on coming up with a probability that your search is related to a show in your area based upon understanding your location, and then upon how well it fits with a profile of the show and meta data collected about it.


    One of the points they make in the patent is that this is something that would help people who are in “close proximity” to a TV when searching. That seems odd, and isn’t explained in the patent filing.

  14. Hi D’Woven

    I included the video to show off the android app, but the patent really doesn’t tell us how they are going to determine whether there is a TV in close proximity to the searcher. I liked it because Google Now seems like a good place to offer things like suggestions about TV shows to watch. The future of this TV-Influenced search results may be tied to apps in the future. We just really can’t tell that from the patent at this point.

  15. Hi Eric,

    It’s not up there with the patent that was reported on in 2007 or so, where Google stated that they might try to listen to ambient noise (I liked to an article about it in another comment for this post, but here it is again: Examination of your past queries, possibly. Examination of your present query to determine a probability that you are watching a TV show at present, absolutely. Yes, deciding whether the show is being broadcast in your area is definitely important.

    It’s not listening into your house. While Google might have profiles of TV shows and meta data available to them, it’s definitely not a copy of the script of the shows.

    The patent insists upon aiming at a searcher who is in close proximity to a TV, but really doesn’t go past that to state in any way the existence of some kind of sniffing technology. 🙂

    It actually sounds more useful than anything. Some of us watch too much TV for our own goods. 🙂


  16. Awesome info Bill, thanks for your interpretation of the patent. So as you read this, it looks like it primarily focuses on:

    1. Examination of queries to see if you have previously searched things that would imply you could be watching the show (your game time and players example).

    2. Of course, whether or not the show is available at a given time in your area.

    It does not currently imply that they would be using listening capability to figure out whether or not there is currently a show on a live TV in the room with you.

    It also does not currently imply that they would leverage access to the script that they might somehow acquire pre-show.

    Also, no implication of some other sniffing technology to see if you are standing near a TV that’s no a particular show.

    Is that a fair summary?

    If I got that all right, not as creepy as it might seem at first blush, but still, it is fascinating stuff!

  17. Maybe this is the first step to the elimination of desktops and computers in our homes. Television would have the all the privileges of a computer in a few years from now i think..

  18. There is a dystopian future, somewhere, that is eerily reminiscent of Airstrip One, Winston Smith’s home in 1984 by George Orwell.

    Google are the Inner Party:
    They control the ads you see
    Monitor, and subsequently control your viewing habits
    They “could” read our emails
    They can even, potentially, see what we see through Google Glass
    They photograph us from miles away, and up close

    The conspiracist in me thinks they may model themselves on the Ingsoc model!

  19. Hi Alkisti,

    I hope the web and TV don’t converge to the point were we no longer can do all the things on the Web that we can now, like build web sites, play games, program games, edit photos, and so much more. The web turning into just another TV, but with more channels, would be disappointing. 🙁

  20. Hi Matt,

    I couldn’t help myself but do an image search on [Airstrip One, Winston Smith], and I have to confess that I was impressed by the many images I saw.

    It’s been far too long since I read 1984. I think it was before 1984…

    I’m going to have to make up for that. Just sent for a copy from Amazon.

  21. Interesting, and no pun intended, a sea of possibilities.

    Difficult to see the full implications or scope but its bound to come into action at some point.

    I feel it could somehow either be manipulated or god forbid, be driven by the majority watching some awful cooking program.
    Suddenly Hells Kitchen will be a PR9…

  22. Hi Daniel

    It is interesting when we learn of something new that could play a role in how things are ranked by a search engine, and the idea that they might be monitoring what is playing on television where to see if searches are related to those programs, and possibly provide better results to searchers is intriguing. I don’t think this will lead Gordon Ramsey to some new Michelin stars or a PageRank 9 on some web pages, but some of the stuff shown on Hell’s Kitchen has had me searching for recipes, and that’s a sign of a show that deserves some success online.

  23. For all the talk of intrusiveness of companies such as Google, Facebook etc I actually think this is a very well thought out patent that could have a positive and meaningful impact on the daily lives of web users. I’ve spent countless hours searching for more information on something mentioned on TV, especially when its something fact based. Modifying search results based on what I’m currently viewing (or potentially viewing) could help me out no end. Obviously the possibilities of leverage from a brand point of view are also huge.

    The only downfall (for me) is that I live in Spain but watch UK TV via satellite, so if this does ever roll out I’ll only reap the benefits when I pop back home!

  24. In time, I do believe Google, especially with YouTube, will start to tap into the advertising dollars that is spent on TV. Having worked with some very large brands I can tell you that they throw money at TV commercials in hopes of getting some return. They have some metrics but most do not understand what ROI they are getting.

    I have a good friend that is a TV/Radio personality in the Raleigh/Durham area. He does commercials for the largest car dealership in the state. When I asked him how many vehicles are sold because of his commercials he didn’t have a clue.

    If Google continues to push “quicker” updates in search, such as real time, they will be able to much better capitalize on these advertising dollars. I think we are all fully aware of the fact that it is going to take years or decades though.

  25. To be honest, this sounds a bit concerning to me.. I would not like to be judged because of what’s on TV. What if I am not alone in the room?

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