Ever wonder why new viral clips on YouTube seem to have a “stuck” view counter at an eerily consistent “301”? As YouTube product manager Ted Hamilton explained in a Numberphile video two years ago, videos that surpass that (completely arbitrary) threshold go through a “statistical verification process” to ensure that subsequent views aren’t the work of bots, view-for-hire services, or a combination of the two. But no longer: This morning, YouTube announced that it’s doing away with the 301 cutoff in favor of a system that more quickly records views from “real people.”
In contrast to the old system, which put all view counting on hold for “a few hours” while a centralized server filtered spam, the improved view counter will reflect the number of accumulated plays nearly instantaneously. So long as YouTube determines a view legitimate, it’ll record it, but ones it’s less sure about will be subject to the old verification process. Views that pass that additional muster will be added retroactively.
Why the obsession with accuracy? “We think of views as a currency,” Hamilton said. “We have to make a significant effort to eliminate counterfeit views.” Advertising no doubt plays a part, too. YouTube pays 55 percent of total net revenues to members of its Creator network, a sum predicated on views. The incentive to game the system is obvious, as is YouTube’s motivation to stop abuse.
The change in view counting comes at a pivotal moment for YouTube. Google’s streaming video service outstrips any single U.S. cable network in the sought-after 18- to 49-year-old demographic, and “watch time” — the time that users actually spend watching videos — is up nearly 60 percent year-over-year. Advertisers see dollar signs, as does YouTube — it’s poised to launch a $10 subscription service that removes ads and enables offline watching. The view counter adjustment, then, might be perceived as a minor fix ahead of much bigger fish.