Thanks to a counting tweak, YouTube videos won’t get stuck on ‘301+’ views anymore

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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.

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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.

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