Watch Google Search Results Shift In Real Time Amid A Crisis: World Series Power Outage

Joseph Torrillo Sr. Vice President of Branded Search

The power outage that occurred during Game 1 of the MLB World Series between the Mets and Royals has been well documented over the last 36 hours. While most of the reports discuss why the Fox Sports broadcast was interrupted, they fail to discuss its impact beyond the fact that television viewers missed an at-bat, and play resumed without access to instant replay.

Today, the power outage is apparently old news. But, if you take a closer look at the events that occurred following the power outage, there is a much more compelling story to be told.

When The Screen Went Black

Midway through the 4th inning the Fox Sports broadcast went dark. After a moment of silence, audiences were offered a studio feed where a bewildered group of sports broadcasters struggled to find anything insightful to say. With little clarity as to what was happening, viewers took to social media to express disdain for Fox Sports.

Fox Sports and various personnel became a target for comedic relief via text-based, images, and video messaging.

While the game was delayed only about 7 minutes and most viewers have more or less forgotten about the incident, Fox is still dealing with a host of issues back at headquarters.

What’s the Big Deal?

At the very least, the going rate for a 30-second commercial during the World Series is around $545,000. Simply put, 7 minutes of airtime is worth millions of dollars; when things go awry, people lose. This itself can be a PR nightmare.

In case it wasn’t obvious, Fox was doing damage control throughout game 2 of the World Series. Play-by-play announcer, Joe Buck, made reference to the outage a few times using a humorous tone and laid the groundwork for a new promo created for The Grinder featuring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage.

The Grinder promo

Since the original promo was interrupted by the outage, Lowe and Savage performed a comedy bit during Game 2 that leveraged the outage and uncertainty around it to market their new series.

This designed attempt to win over audiences proves that the outage was not just going to be a short-lived problem for Fox, and they needed to address it immediately. Aside from an apology that was sent out, they used the time immediately following the event to design a promo that would help alter the perception of the outage and steer sentiment surrounding it from being overwhelmingly negative to positive.

Is Fox Out of the Woods?

No.

Fox aligned themselves with the Game 1 audience who found the outage comical. While the new promo was clever and sure to have earned a smile from many of the Game 2 viewers, they were only beginning to scratch the surface with regards to damage control. For some, the outage presented a real problem. A few jokes aren’t going to make it right. While the problem may not have been anyone’s fault in particular, it can still leave a bad taste in people’s mouths and jeopardize Fox’s future earnings.

Beyond the television broadcast, much of what users will dig up about this event and Fox Sports will come from the Internet. Currently, there are about 2 million searches for “Fox” and “Fox Sports” per month. Another 450,00 people search “World Series” per month. In the moments after the outage, those 2.5M people would find negative content about Fox among all three search queries. Below are screenshots of how the search results evolved in real-time during and after the outage.

“Fox Sports” Google Search 9:45pm ET (10/27/15)

Tweets are pulled in to Fox Sports search results. Tweet from Fox Sports is pulled in acknowledging the issue. Viral tweet from Bradley Gelber depicts Fox Sports as out of control.

“Fox Sports” Google Search 9:45pm ET (10/27/15)

“Fox Sports” Google Search 9:47pm ET (10/27/15)

New viral tweet from Tom Kackley pulled in. This one features a somewhat chaotic video of Fox Sports crew scrambling to figure out what the problem is.

“Fox Sports” Google Search 9:47pm ET (10/27/15)

“Fox Sports” Twitter Search 9:50pm ET (10/27/15)

A search for Fox Sports on Twitter returns catastrophic results.

“Fox Sports” Twitter Search 9:50pm ET (10/27/15)

“Fox Sports” Google Search 9:57pm ET (10/27/15)

Esquire Magazine capitalizes on opportunity by pegging Clark from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as the one responsible for outage. Tweet pulled into Fox Sports search results approximately 10 minutes after it is posted to Esquire Magazine Twitter account. Represents a growing trend of brands capitalizing on other brands’ viral content.

“Fox Sports” Google Search 10:04pm ET (10/27/15)

Power outage headline appears among the “In-The-News” results. Fox Sports original tweet replaced among the real-time Twitter results. New tweet from Mike Kearney pulled in with a sketch analysis boasting better coverage of the World Series than Fox Sports. Fox Sports apology now ranking among the standard organic web results.

“Fox Sports” Google Search 10:04pm ET (10/27/15)

Mike Kearny Tweet 10:26pm ET (10/27/15)

Mike Kearny tweet racks up over 300 retweets and 400 favorites in 30 minutes.

Mike Kearny Tweet 10:26pm ET (10/27/15)

“Fox” Google Search 10:41pm ET (10/27/15)

Fox broader search results now impacted by Fox Sports outage. KCTV-5 tweet pulled into real-time Twitter results. Deadspin article, “Fox Loses Broadcast During World Series”, featured at top of “In-The-News” results.

“Fox” Google Search 10:41pm ET (10/27/15)

“World Series” Google Search Results 11:12pm ET (10/27/15)

WABC-TV article appears among World Series “In-The-News” section. Deadspin article, “Fox Loses Broadcast During World Series,” pulled into standard organic results.

“World Series” Google Search Results 11:12pm ET (10/27/15)

Fox Sports World Series Google Image Search 11:15pm ET (10/27/15)

Fox Sports World Series image search results overtaken by image of “Fox Sports Technical Difficulties” background ranking #1.

Fox Sports World Series Google Image Search 11:15pm ET (10/27/15)

“Fox Sports” Google Search 12:53am (10/28/15)

A 2-hour old tweet from Alex Weprin hosting the Fox Sports statement is pulled in.

“Fox Sports” Google Search 12:53am (10/28/15)

Alex Weprin Twitter Status

Alex Weprin’s tweet didn’t have to go viral, it just had to be relevant.

Alex Weprin Twitter Status

World Series Google Search 12:54am ET (10/28/15)

Top 2 “In-The-News” results for World Series highlighting power outage. ESPN article about the power outage pulled into standard organic results.

World Series Google Search 12:54am ET (10/28/15)

“Fox Sports” Google Search 12:09pm ET (10/28/15)

The following afternoon, power outage headlines featured as both the first and second “In-The-News” results and at bottom of organic web results.

“Fox Sports” Google Search 12:09pm ET (10/28/15)

A Lesson in Volatility and Vulnerability

It is easy to see how volatile the “Fox”, “Fox Sports”, and “World Series” search results were throughout the night. This demonstrates how vulnerable they can be. The same is true for any brand: their search results can shift on a dime, unexpectedly – for better or worse.

48 hours later, and there are still remnants of the news cycle seen among the upper search results for “Fox Sports” and the “World Series”.

“Fox Sports” Google Search – Page 2 October 29, 2015 3:45pm ET

“Fox Sports” Google Search – Page 2 October 29, 2015 3:45pm ET

“World Series” Google Search – Page 2 October 29, 2015 3:45pm ET

“World Series” Google Search – Page 2 October 29, 2015 3:45pm ET

Depending on whether or not Fox views this content as threatening will determine if they will do anything to fix this specific problem. Regardless, they will need to seriously consider taking preemptive measures to prevent this from happening again; acting now can help them build immunity among the search results against future attacks.

The same goes for the MLB, where the search results for “World Series” seem to shift as often as the wind blows. The images above show that every article returned at the bottom of page one and across all of page 2 of the Google search results for “World Series” were published within the last 3 days. It is equally remarkable as it is scary that an entire page of the Google search results is so vulnerable that it can be completely taken over by articles less than a week old.

A Proactive Solution

While the Fox Sports broadcast failure may not be the worst problem ever experienced, it serves as a perfect example of how quickly one small problem can quickly escalate into a much bigger problem facilitated through social media, news outlets, and Google search.

Every brand should consider what millions of user searches means to their brand if a negative article moved into their search results overnight. It’s so important to be proactive in protecting your image across all facets of search and social media.

To put the potential impact in perspective, based on the location of negative content appearing in the Google organic search results for “Fox Sports” after the outage, somewhere between 5,000 – 10,000 people may have clicked on the content and read it. This estimate is based on total search volume multiplied by estimated click-through rates for content appearing on page 1 of Google. 

Now, consider that a fraction of people clicking on and reading that negative article decide not to do business with you. Depending on your average transaction value, that loss in revenue could equate to millions of dollars. In this case, one potential customer that reads the negative article and decides not to purchase 30-second World Series ad space in the future could hypothetically cost Fox $545,000 in revenue.

What is your reputation worth to you?