Hacking American Idol

First, I have a confession to make… I’m a hacker.

But not by the Hollywood definition of someone who spends their time doing malicious things (ie cracking) on other people’s computers. No, a true hacker is someone who marvels at the engineering world around them and seeks to understand it and ultimately… to make it better. A real hacker hacks everything they see, it is by no means limited to computers. (A true hacker will hack a shopping cart… and if you don’t get that, you ain’t a hacker.)

Now, that is not to say hackers don’t use their knowledge or ability to skew things in their favor… but I’m not here to talk to you about hackers. I simply give you the above explanation so you don’t think I’m some sort of criminal mastermind when you read the rest of this post. 😉

As we all learned after the infamous Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, the TiVo folks know what sections of a show get replayed most often. — Which brings me to American Idol.

Big, big money is wagered, both here and abroad, on who will become the next American Idol. Gamblers all over the globe bet millions last season. (get it yet?)

The select few people who have access to the TiVo logs could, potentially, make a small fortune betting on the outcome of American Idol. Since the outcome is selected by the viewers and it seems an obvious logical leap that viewers will replay the people they enjoy more often, then a fair approximation of the outcome could be gleaned by checking to see which parts of the show get replayed the most, then correlating that time sequence to the contestant. Do it over the whole season and I bet the data correlates incredibly well.

It is not a perfect methodology but I’d be willing to put a lot on money on it — if I had the data. I just hope those TiVo folks limit who gets that data, it is clearly quite valuable.

Anyone wanting to try this at home could also use the bit torrent and assorted P2P networks to gather similar data. The more files shared the more people like that contestant.

And yes I know, only an odd duck would think about things like this… so sue me.

Schieffer set to fill Rather's CBS seat


  1. chthus February 2, 2005
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  7. flh February 13, 2005