Jul 25, 2021 - Science

Bezos beats Branson in space billionaires' battle for attention

Photo illustration of RIchard Branson and Jeff Bezos riding a bullhorn into space.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Imtiyaz Shaikh (Anadolu Agency), Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos' flight into space generated more interest from the public than Richard Branson's, and both billionaires overshadowed their respective space companies.

Why it matters: Data shows an outsized public interest in the personalities at the center of the space trips, compared to the companies behind them — which could reinforce public suspicion that the ventures were partly vanity plays.

The big picture: Branson's launch happened first, and Virgin Galactic put together a slick livestream stuffed with celebrity cameos. But the world's richest man still commanded more attention a few days later.

  • Bezos' launch-day Google searches were 38% higher than Branson's and generated 19% more mentions on social media, according to data from Keyhole.
  • There were nearly twice as many stories written about Bezos around his launch compared to Branson nine days earlier, according to NewsWhip data.

By the numbers: Branson and Bezos both put themselves at the center of commercial space tourism this month, and the moguls themselves — not their space companies — held most of the public's attention.

  • For Tuesday's event, Google searches about Jeff Bezos were nearly twice as high as searches for Blue Origin, according to Google Trends.
  • Interest in Virgin Galactic was a little more even — there were 35% more searches for Richard Branson than his company.
  • Stories published online about Blue Origin that did not highlight Bezos generated 2.5x less engagement on average than those that did, according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.
  • Virgin Galactic stories not centered on Richard Branson got nearly half the engagement as those that were.

Between the lines: Famous billionaires may bring in more attention, but much of that reaction — particularly to Bezos — was scornful.

  • Bezos' comments that Amazon employees and customers "paid for all of this," and the ensuing backlash, were among the launch-related stories with the most social interactions, according to NewsWhip data.
  • Another top headline: "Jeff Bezos Takes Spaceflight. 165k People Sign Petition To Keep Him There."
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