If you’re just somebody who likes to look at things on the Internet, the importance that people place on YouTube views may elude you. But when it comes to marketers, journalists, and others whose job involves determining whether or not something qualifies as a viral video–and subsequently whether it’s worth reporting on or treating as influential–that little number to the bottom right of the video display box is invaluable.
It’s also basically useless, according to agency Solve Ideas. In the agency’s compelling four-minute look at–well, nothing–the fact that YouTube views are a useless metric for measuring what people are actually paying attention to becomes abundantly clear. The video, called The Blank Video Project, is exactly what it sounds like: a four-minute look at a blank white space with no sound or anything else going on. There’s no reason to spend any time whatsoever watching the video–but 107,000 people have, according to the video’s play counter.
Kurt Stafki, social media manager for Solve, says that the agency spent $1,400 to get the video its 100,000 views, and that the number is scaleable. “If it only took us $1,400 to hit 100,000 views, any brand willing to spend $14,000 can hit 1,000,000 views,” he says. Those views came via YouTube’s pre-roll advertising–the four-minute blank video was shown to viewers in the U.S., who were given the option to skip it after five seconds. Like all YouTube pre-roll advertisers, Solve was charged whenever a viewer watched at least 30 seconds of the video–and reaching a total of 100,000 views turned out to be downright affordable at 1.4 cents per view.
The video played over 227,000 times, which means that a little less than half of the people who saw any portion of it played it through, and 22,000 people let the video play through its entire four-minute runtime.
Most likely, that means that 22,000 people opened a YouTube video in a background tab, then went over and clicked around on Facebook or something and forgot about it–and since Solve’s video is silent, there was no reason for it to attract their attention. (In other words: A company that wants to goose its YouTube view numbers in the same way might find it more difficult to do if it’s narrated by Gilbert Gottfried.) And the fact that the ad managed to get almost 1% of viewers to click through to the agency’s website can probably be attributed to accidental tapping and/or an “is this thing on” effect.
In other words, it’s tough to know for sure from this project whether or not the fact that the video was blank, silent, and otherwise unobtrusive, was a factor in the goosing of the stats or not. But it definitely means that the next time someone brags about the views on a video with fewer than 100,000 plays, you can tell ’em that it’s less popular than nothing.