December 13, 2009 in Business

Woods scandal boosts Web publications

Jordan Robertson Associated Press
 

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Tiger Woods sex scandal has been a boon for online publications, even though it hasn’t generated the same amount of Internet traffic as Michael Jackson’s death or President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Provocative remarks by Yahoo Inc. CEO Carol Bartz at an investor conference in New York last week illustrate how major Internet channels and niche publications are benefiting from the Woods controversy.

Known for her off-color commentary, Bartz told financial analysts Tuesday that the Woods story is “better than Michael Jackson dying” for helping Yahoo make money, because it is easier to sell ads against salacious content than morbid stories.

In response to a question, Bartz even said Woods will “absolutely” help Yahoo make its numbers this quarter, a comment the company now says was meant to be a joke.

Google Inc. and Yahoo, which combined process more than 80 percent of all Internet searches in the U.S., said they’ve seen a significant spike in traffic from people looking for information on the golf superstar and his alleged extramarital affairs. Yahoo says searches for Woods’ name are up more than 3,900 percent over the last 30 days. Neither Google nor Yahoo would provide specifics about how many more people were searching.

But the traffic bump still is not as pronounced as those that surrounded the entertainer’s death in June and Obama’s inauguration in January, both companies said.

Smaller publications also are benefiting.

Time Inc. says its Golf.com Web site, which averages 2.4 million unique viewers a month, has seen traffic spike 600 percent since the story about Tiger broke after the Thanksgiving holiday. The traffic is similar to levels the publications sees only during major golf championships, said Scott Novak, spokesman for Sports Illustrated Group, which publishes Golf.com.

A lesson from earlier major news events is that Internet companies need to capitalize fast on the surge in traffic, because interest fades quickly.

Google’s statistics show that searches for Michael Jackson stayed strong in the days after his death but fell off dramatically after a couple of weeks.

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