Michael Jackson Death Completely Overwhelms Media

July 2, 2009

The breaking news of Michael Jackson’s sudden death last week dramatically slowed the internet, crippled Google, crashed Twitter, sent iTunes and BitTorrent downloads skyrocketing and made for a huge portion of TV news and radio airplay, according to The Nielsen Company, Billboard and a number of other analysts that tracked coverage of the event.

An Online Outpouring

Nielsen reported that Jackson-related news dominated web discussion on June 25, causing huge spikes in traffic and overwhelming social networks with bursts of information and updates from millions of users.

In comparison, the high volume of blog discussions about Jackson made recent buzz around the swine flu scare and President Obama’s inauguration seem paltry and insignificant.


Similarly a Nielsen Buzzmetrics analysis revealed that more than 16% of tweets in the 24-hour period after Jackson’s death mentioned the singer, while less than 2% of mentioned Farrah Fawcett and Iran – two other high-profile news topics during the same time period.


Information from Mashable put the percentage of MJ-tribute tweets higher, at close to 30%, with a reported 50,000 tweets in just one hour. Mashable said that Twitter tracking tool Twist showed 22.61% of Tweets following Jackson’s death with the phrase “Michael Jackson,” 9% containing “MJ,” and 25% including the name “Michael.” Twitter is reported to have crashed at least once during this time.

The ICM News site in the UK reported that search engine Google dramatically slowed down between 2:40 pm and 3:15 pm Pacific time on June 25, as millions of Googlers entering the star’s name got an error page rather than a list of results. These difficulties were later confirmed by Google.

In addition, many entertainment sites slowed significantly and became difficult to access, including celebrity gossip site TMZ.com, according to TechCrunch. TMZ.com first broke the story that Jackson’s heart had stopped and paramedics had been summoned.

Traditional Media Also Overtaken

Separate from web activity,? TV and radio stations immediately began airing footage and playing songs in the hours immediately following Jackson’s death.

US TV network and cable coverage seemed nearly omnipresent, while the Guardian reported that the UK’s Sky News reported a peak of 735,000 viewers in the 15 minutes after Jackson’s death was confirmed, while the BBC News channel hit 562,000 viewers around the same time period. The jump in viewers resulted in much-higher-than-usual ratings for these channels during the time of the Jackson coverage.

Radio Honors Jackson’s Passing

Rolling Stone reported that Jackson’s music became immediately popular on radio as well. Citing Nielsen numbers, the magazine said the singer’s biggest hits jumped nearly 1,735% in overall airplay over the previous week, with many stations exclusively dedicating their play lists to Jackson’s music the weekend after his death.

According to? Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems, which tracks total airplay for terrestrial, satellite and cable radio stations, Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was played the most over the airwaves, logging 4,540 plays from June 22nd to June 28th. Of those, 4,446 plays came after June 25th. In the previous week, “Billie Jean” only registered 318 plays total, according to Billboard.com.

Billboard noted that, overall, 20 Michael Jackson songs registered more than 1,000 plays last week following news of Jackson’s death. By comparison, only Jackson’s “Rock With You” managed to crack 500 plays the previous week. “Thriller,” which was only played twice on Tuesday, June 23rd by all stations combined, was aired 1,497 times on Friday, June 26th, and collected 3,570 plays for the week. Also cracking the 3,000 plays mark were Off the Wall’s “Rock With You” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

Four Jackson 5 songs managed to surpass the 1,000-play mark: “ABC,” “I Want You Back,” “I’ll Be There” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

MP3 Downloads Surge

Rolling Stone reported that, following Jackson’s death, the top five albums on iTunes, and seven of the Top 10, were all Jackson releases, with The Essential Michael Jackson, Thriller and Off the Wall ranking as the top three.

Similarly, the Amazon MP3 store listed Jackson as the service’s top-selling artist of the day following his death, said Rolling Stone. Last.fm also documented a large increase in listeners to “The King of Pop” in the moments following his passing, with a peak of roughly 42,000 of his songs played on the service between 6 pm and 8 pm ET.

Downloads of Michael Jackson’s music also caused a surge on BitTorrent, where, immediately after his death, the three most active torrents in the music section on the largest torrent indexer, Mininova, were all compilations or discographies from MJ. On top was a torrent listing 30 Michael Jackson albums, The Jackson 5 and The Jacksons, totaling 1.94 GB of music.

MJ Death Spawns Spam

Despite an outpouring of shock, caring and sympathy from fans worldwide, all of the web’s Michael Jackson activity isn’t about the love. Computerworld reported that an increase in Michael Jackson spam and malware is likely to sweep the internet in the wake of the entertainer’s death.

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