Have you ever noticed how popular videos sometimes have their view counter stuck on 301, especially for popular videos that quickly get a lot of comments? Well, there’s a reason for that, and the Numberphile, also known as Brady Haran, investigated the phenomenon and posted a video about what he found. To get to the bottom of the number mystery, Haran interviewed the product manager for YouTube analytics, Ted Hamilton.
The first thing Hamilton revealed is no, YouTube video views are not counted by hand, and that a video view is considered “currency.” Furthermore, and this should come as no surprise, it was revealed that how YouTube determines a count is something of a trade secret, but it’s more than just pressing “play” and exiting the window. That much is obvious. Another thing the delay in count updating is part of YouTube’s method of determining view spam, or, counterfeit views. Because YouTube is a global entity with users all over the world, it uses a method of content delivery similar to Netflix, employing servers all around the world which caches the content, instead of having to “broadcast” it from solely from the United States.
When the content is requested from a specific server, it records the viewing in a log, which is collected and then aggregated, increasing the view count accordingly. The reason for the view being frozen has to do with YouTube’s view verification process, which again, is in place to prevent counterfeit views, keeping with the idea that views are considered a video’s currency. It’s an interesting process, and Hamilton and Haran provide great, easy-to-follow explanations for how counts are determined.
But that doesn’t answer the question of why 301. Why does the counter freeze at this number? Because that was YouTube’s arbitrary plateau when they created their If > Then > Else statement was created. Essentially, if the video’s view count is less than or equal to 300, the count increases. If it exceeds 300, the code statement then moves to a much more complex part of the “view count pipeline.”