When I was preparing a post about Red Letter Media's Star Wars reviews earlier in the week, I discovered something surprising. Well, it was surprising to me. Blip.tv--where Red Letter's latest video is hosted--doesn't share video view counts publicly on the website. It was important to me at the time, because I was trying to show how incredibly popular the group's videos have become. And while their first two reviews are on YouTube--where the view counts clearly establish them as a hit--the latest is only on Blip.tv. With no view count data, there's no way at all to know how popular any one video is.
A quick look around the world of online video gave me a good grasp of the sites that do and do not publish view counts, as well as the placement of said statistics. Please note that not all of these are traditional portals--in that users can upload videos--but all are destinations for video viewers.
Sites that do publish view counts:
- YouTube - bottom right below video player
- Vimeo - far removed from the video player, down the page on the right sidebar
- Funny Or Die - below the video, center
- Daily Motion - top right of video player
- Viddler - just below the video, on the left
- - top left, above the player
- Veoh - buried several inches below the player
- Yahoo Video - it's hidden; you have to click the "i" button on the video player to see the view count
- All the major live-streaming services show view counts (Livestream, Ustream, Justin.tv, etc.)
Sites that do not publish view counts:
I could probably go on and on listing video hosting services, because there are tons of them out there. But that's probably a pretty good cross section. There are also the enterprise-level platforms that aren't really viewing destinations, but are instead simply a video player/hosting solutions: Ooyala, Brightcove, etc. I'm not really including these sites in this discussion.
So with all of the background information out of the way, let's get to the fundamental question: Why don't all video platforms display video view counts? I have several theories--possible explanations for the omission of video view data--but no proof. Nothing concrete. Just my own suppositions and guesswork. Here now are some possible reasons I've thought of as to why video platforms might choose to keep view counts hidden:
They Don't Have Many Views
The easiest explanation is to suggest that the platforms hiding view counts are ashamed of their totals, and don't wish to embarrass themselves or harm their brand by willingly publishing statistics on how rarely their service gets used. Back in the early days of web design, it was quite popular to put a site-counter widget on your website. And I can remember advising several clients not to go that route in case the site was ultimately not visited all that often--why broadcast to the world that no one comes to your website? Similarly... why broadcast to the world that nobody is watching your videos?
They Don't Have To
Sites like Hulu (or any of the similar competing services that have cropped up) don't really need to share view counts. They don't have users uploading video--creators who might demand such data. They're only showing content created by their ownership group (NBC, etc.), and frankly... they're probably not interested in letting their competitors know how many views the videos on Hulu get. It's probably a competitive advantage.
They Don't Know
In this day and age, I simply can't believe that a video hosting website could not know how many views their videos are getting, but it's possible, I suppose. I've done some SEO work and consulting for larger companies in the past, and you might be surprised to learn how many of them are happy to remain hopelessly ignorant about their website data.
The Varying Definitions Of A "Video View"
As Christopher discussed in this excellent post a few months ago, nobody can even really agree on what the definition of a "video view" even is. Is a view what happens when someone hits the 'play' button, or do they need to watch the whole thing? Do multiple viewing from the same IP count, or only the first view? Because every site has a different definition of what a video view is in the first place, it can become a stat that is bloated in importance by the media.
Some of the hosting sites might hide view counts to protect themselves or their users from click fraud. Fraudulent views are an increasing problem, and maybe some platforms feel the best way to deter such behavior is to devalue the view totals by removing them completely.
Views mean different things to different hosting sites. In addition, every site tracks its user behavior differently. How close to real time are the view counts updated? How can we know which views were complete and which ones were partial or fraudulent. If this whole exercise of researching and writing this article has taught me one thing, it's this: video view counts are pretty overvalued, and way too trusted by the media. Considering how wildly different all the platforms are in how they count and report views, there's no universal standard. A million views on YouTube doesn't mean the same thing as a million views on Yahoo Video or Vimeo.
Let's not forget that even when these sites are gracious to give us view counts, we still have to take them at their word. And while I tend to believe the best about people and companies until proven otherwise, there's no reason to just flatly assume they're all telling the truth, is there? Perhaps we should focus more on the videos themselves--how they spread and grow--or to the trends in the view count (speeding up or slowing down) rather than the total views themselves? Or not. It's just a thought.
Why do you think some video platforms keep view counts hidden? I'd love to hear your ideas as well.