Does Anyone Really Know Who’s Using YouTube?

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Ever since YouTube was reported to be serving up 100 million videos daily, the site became an industry darling. But who is watching and how often? The answer to that may not be as simple as you think.

Does Anyone Really Know Who's Using YouTube?
Who Uses YouTube?

Nielsen//Netratings recently reported that a third of the YouTube crowd was over 45. Hitwise has the over 45 crowd at 15.65 percent. Almost 23.5 percent of YouTubers are between the ages of 35 and 44.

The most active demographic, according to Hitwise is the 18-24 year-old crowd, controlling 29.28 percent of traffic for the week ending October 28.

Mashable’s sample of 41,000 active user profiles (i.e., not total audience, but registered users) revealed that the average YouTuber was 27 years old, watching 39 videos daily.

But the problem, admits Kelvin Beecroft of Mashable Labs, is that the number of videos watched per user, and the total number of times a video is viewed can be easily gamed. Does the average user really watch almost 40 videos per day? If they’re all short videos, that’s nearly an hour and a half.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Pete Cashmore questioned the number of videos served by YouTube after discovering a glitch in the system that counted streams by the number of times a page was refreshed.

Uploading a seven-second clip without audio (low quality and uninteresting), Cashmore found that the video was viewed over 10,000 times over night after he set the page to automatically refresh. This sent the video to the “Most Viewed” list.

Cashmore also pointed out several users who’ve, according to their accounts, have watched enough videos to be officially classified as a vegetable, apparently watching as many as 243 videos per hour, 24 hours daily, for six straight months.

Either these guys are gaming the system somehow and for some reason, or they have the most pathetic lives on record. Cashmore notes how these same YouTubers have had less-than-excellent clips hit the Most Viewed lists.

Mashable’s review of gaming the system, by the way, was a replicated experiment based on one done at the RabbitBites blog over a month ago.

If someone sets [automatic refresh] with 30 [Firefox] tabs open and goes to bed, they could wake up with one of the most viewed videos of the day

Getting one of the “highest rated” videos and one of “the most talked about” videos of the day could both be accomplished with multiple accounts. The normal ratio for reviews to viewership is about 1:100 but many videos that rank highly for the day, are 1:3 or 1:2. In our casual observation, this seems to happen most in the morning, when we speculate that people are battling each other, jockeying for position. On inspection, some accounts that make comments look like they are dummy accounts: No videos, no subscriptions, no favorites, no nothing. This would distort ratings and demographics.

We tested these little tricks a couple of times a few weeks ago. They worked.

So what are YouTube’s actual numbers? YouTube didn’t respond to a request for comment, so we can’t tell you.

But if Hitwise’s numbers are right, the videos are targeting a great audience: 53.82% male; 50.19% between the ages of 18-34; 29.58% with an income between $30,000 and $59,999; and 26.52% with an income between $60,000 and $99,999.

That’s a highly coveted demographic (think how much Monday Night Football and Super Bowl ads are).

Google’s been highly secretive about its own numbers, but various analytics companies peg Google’s search share between 40-60 percent. That’s a more forgivable flexibility, but as video gets more popular and competitive, YouTube won’t be able to count refresher numbers to advertisers.


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Does Anyone Really Know Who’s Using YouTube?
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