Yesterday, YouTube refreshed their leaderboards and a strange new video became the Most Viewed Video of All-Time, topping the world-famous Evolution of Dance video. With 89 million views, the new winner is a fan-made music video. But did it get there legitimately?
In early 2007, a popular Italian music community called Qoob.tv announced a contest for the Brazilian band CSS, in which fans could remix green-screen footage created by the band to create their own video for their song "Alcohol." Instead, an Italian music blogger and photographer named Clarus Bartel remixed the "Alcohol" footage for a different song, Music Is My Hot Hot Sex, the song made famous by the iPod Touch ad. Update: See our interview with the video's creator.
Since he uploaded the video to YouTube, it's accumulated a staggering 89 million views, at an average 265,500 views per day. (Though, as you'll see below, most of those viewers were in the last two months.) Not only would this make his video the most-viewed of all time, defeating runner-up The Evolution of Dance by over 12 million views, but it's also added more views-per-day than any video but Britney's latest single.
The commenters on the CSS video are baffled, many of them accusing foul play. I decided to look into it, to see if there was a method to determine if the number of views were somehow false.
One method of detecting suspicious view counts on YouTube would be to compare the ratio of social activity to the view count. If the number of ratings, comments, and favorites are much lower than other videos with similar views, then it's possible that the numbers have been artificially inflated.
Using the YouTube API, I retrieved statistics for the top 500 videos. I chose to compare the number of ratings, because comments can be turned off or removed by video owners and the number of favorites was unavailable in the API. The spreadsheet is below.
If you look at the ratio of views-to-ratings, you'll see the CSS video has a very unusual 21,487-to-1 ratio. In other words, for every 21,487 views, someone leaves one rating. To compare, the average ratio for every other video in the top 10 is a more reasonable 590-to-1. This ratio is representative of other popular videos, too; the median ratio for the entire top 500 is 545-to-1. Skimming down the list, you can see some other strange videos that might raise eyebrows.
Many of the anomalies are videos embedded on extremely high-traffic sites, resulting in huge viewership but with very little social activity. For example, this video linked directly from Google Maps or this Rihanna promo ad from from her Myspace. In these cases, you can usually click on the "Links" on the video page to see where the traffic's coming from. But for the CSS video, and several others in the list, there's no clear source of where the external traffic could be coming from.
Using numbers pulled from around the web, I've found a few historical stats for the video. In the last few weeks, the CSS video is growing by 6-10 million views every five days.
Is this a guarantee that the numbers were faked? No, there's still a possibility that this torrent of traffic is coming from a legitimate external source, but it seems increasingly unlikely. I'm pretty sure it's either a bug or some form of cheating, but I'd love to hear theories.
(Huge thanks to Philip Rogosky for the tip and ongoing research.)
Update: With Philip's help, we've interviewed Clarus Bartel about his clip. After hearing his side, I don't believe he's involved in faking the numbers. That said, the numbers are still very suspicious. I'm trying to get in touch with YouTube to find out more about their methodology.
March 7: YouTube removed the CSS video from the Most Viewed chart, though didn't adjust the numbers on the video itself. No word from YouTube about why, but presumably they're investigating it.
March 18: After YouTube reinstated its place on the leaderboard, the video's creator removed it from the site. More here.