The June audience of ESPN.com soared to 30.6 million unique visitors as people checked out the World Cup online, according to research firm comScore. That moved it ahead of well-known sites including Time Warner (NYSE: TWX), Expedia (NASDAQ: EXPE), and Target (NYSE: TGT). It shows how one event, or one new product from a company can increase its online traffic, and probably how quickly that audience can falter.
Adobe’s (NASDAQ: ADBE) site increased to 37.5 million unique visitors in June, most likely because of its launch of new versions of its popular Flash tools and its dispute with Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) over the hardware company’s decision to not use Flash on devices such as the iPhone.
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) kept its top spot in comScore in June with 178.8 unique visitors. Yahoo! (NASDAQ; YHOO) was second with 170.2 million, and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) third with 160.8 million. Facebook improved upon its popularity as its audience moved it into fourth place among US sites with 141.6 million unique visitors. Facebook also has a tremendous audience overseas and recently passed the milestone of 500 million members.
The comScore figures tell two things. The first is that a site like ESPN can have a one-time improvement. This may be good for the web property’s advertisers–for one month. But what happens in July, August, and for the rest of the year? ESPN will have to drop ad rates, suffer a decline in revenue for July — at least compared with June.
The other number that stands out is Facebook’s. Its audience will only have to grow 12% to get to the level of Microsoft users at June levels. At 21% improvement will move it ahead of Yahoo!
The comScore number highlights the great threat that Facebook poses to the traditional web portals and perhaps eventually to Google. Facebook has much more display inventory than the web portals do, and its sells that inventory at lower prices than MSN and Yahoo! do, which puts downward pressure on all online ad prices.
If Facebook’s audience moves to the level of Google’s, the changes the social media company has brought to the online world will be even more dangerous to its competitors.
Douglas A. McIntyre