Saturday, May 18, 2013


A heist has been uncovered.

A complicated confidence scam involving major corporations.

It happened in plain sight.

And it all started with online video.

Online views are the new heroin, you see.

Ask anyone who has ever posted anything online.

You become addicted to watching the counters. You can't help it.

How many 'Likes'?

How many views?

Do they love me?

As the great viewing revolution has evolved, and audiences move increasingly to online video, these simple metrics have become increasingly important.

Not just for your ego. For actual commerce.

Careers are being built on the foundation of online popularity.

How else did Psy become a worldwide success?

His music video, 'Gangnam Style' is the most watched video on Youtube, with 1.5 billion views.

The view counter, therefore, is becoming a symbol of how large your audience is.

Large audiences give established players (e.g. Hollywood studios) confidence in supporting you on your next piece of art.

And so careers are built.

But don't be fooled into thinking it's just about art.

There is plenty of money floating around too.

Psy is now a millionaire. 8 times over, in fact.

But it's not just for pop stars. Advertisers want to play too.

If you are getting annoyed with the constant pre-roll of advertising at the start of nearly every Youtube video these days, that is the work of the advertisers.

That's the deal you've made, I'm afraid. If you want video content for free, you have to make some concessions.

And trust me, it's not going away.

Advertisement partnering on online videos is seen as one of the key foundations of the future video-on-demand (VOD) models.

Producers like me will be counting on these models to make money from our work and create sustainable careers.

So yes, I watch the view counter too.

For the advertisers, the view count is everything.

It tells them that their ads are reaching eyeballs. Their whole world.

It's where the money is.

And it's the perfect target for a heist.

How do you corrupt this seemingly scientific model, based on tangible data like a view counter?

Fake the views.

Oh yes, it's possible.

Believe it or not, you can artificially inflate the number of views of your work online.

But who would gain from this?

Some of the biggest media players in the business, that's who.

Think about it.

They gain both ways.

They make their product, whatever is the subject of the video, look popular and therefore easier to sell.


They also make it seem to advertisers that this video is worth partnering with, leading to a possible windfall from the revenue they get per ad, per view.

That's a winning each way bet. That's the heist.

But they got caught.

Surely I'm exaggerating, right?


'Major record labels such as Universal, Sony/BMG, and RCA, were stripped by YouTube of over two billion views in the past month. Universal was hit the hardest, losing one billion views in the raid, and artists such as Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, Beyonce, and Avril Lavigne were all stripped of over 100 million phony views, violating YouTube's terms of service regarding view manipulation. In addition, videos from over 500 prominent channels were also stripped of views.'

The Young Turks provided a good analysis as well:

Yes, they were caught with the hand in the cookie jar.

And their behaviour makes it harder for the rest of us filmmakers.

It reduces the power of a strongly viewed video to act as proof that you can engage with an audience. If the views are faked, what audience is there really?

It diminishes trust from possible advertisers and jeopardises a possible revenue stream for filmmakers.

In short, the heist benefits them and harms the rest of us.

But it's not all bad news.

That they were caught out is the most important thing.

There is an old saying, "transparency is the best antiseptic".

This behaviour had to be exposed and eliminated.

To clear a path for artists who are genuine, talented and organic.

To make way for those artists who have genuinely engaged audiences and lifted their view count legitimately.

To open opportunities for those artists who can potentially live off of the advertising revenue because of their talent and connection to a genuine audience base.

Now that the game is not rigged, why couldn't that be you?

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