This week, we’ve seen stories come across hailing 3 million plays of a show in one month a hit (KateModern) and 2 million views in three months for a whole site a success (Slate V). It begs the question: When is online content considered a hit? […]

This week, we’ve seen stories come across hailing 3 million plays of a show in one month a hit (KateModern) and 2 million views in three months for a whole site a success (Slate V). It begs the question: When is online content considered a hit? When should it be considered a hit?

Even with all the fetishization of the long tail these days, it’s important to remember that entertainment (and therefore online video entertainment) is a hit-driven business. People flock to hits, advertisers flock to people.

But agreeing on criteria is not so easy. The easiest measuring stick is, of course, the play count. But since content online never really goes away, does it matter if it takes a week or a month to reach a million plays?

I’m not gonna lie. I don’t have the definitive answer. But I want to kick-start the discussion. I spoke with a number of online video pros — including the folks at Funny or Die, Revver, JibJab, and Heavy — to get some basic numbers and their take on what makes a hit.

FunnyorDie.com made waves earlier this year with Will Ferrell’s The Landlord, racking up more than 45 million plays in the five months since it launched.

The Landlord

Amy Rhodes, productiion manager for Funny or Die, said she realizes that not every piece of content they launch will do those numbers. “For a celebrity-driven video, 100,000 plays in the first week is good,” she said. “User-submitted videos may take longer, but if they reach 100,000, they are considered ‘immortal.'”

But that’s not all Rhodes looks at. “If a piece gets rated a four or a five, that’s considered a hit, as well as how many times it was forwarded and where it gets embedded,” she said.

A Revver spokesperson said that a video is considered a hit if it reaches more than 100,000 views in a day. At that rate, the piece will peak around 400,000 to 500,000 plays and then level off.

JibJab, creators of This Land (more than 80 million plays), considers three million plays in the first week a hit. Five million is preferred, but co-founder Gregg Spiridellis said he’ll settle for 1.5 million. “It’s also important to see…how much offline media exposure does it get.” Easy for him to say, JibJab’s premiered ten videos on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Jason Marks, VP of programming and development for Heavy.com, doesn’t necessarily believe in big numbers right off the bat. While he pegs a hit at 100,000 plays, Marks said he recognizes that, “It’s not like TV. Longevity is so strange. The third time a piece goes around our site is when it could take off.”

Marks also said he looks more to the smaller, repeat viewers. “For me, I’d much rather get a core audience and keep them coming back,” he explained. Heavy’s anime-spoof series Kung Fu Jimmy Chow draws roughly 50,000 viewers, but, “That 50,000 is out there writing about it,” Marks noted. “Then you know that they’re attached. It’s not an empty view that might not even watch the whole piece, and not return.”

From these discussions, it looks like video sites are gravitating to the 100,000 number — which is at least a number. But everyone recognizes it’s not the only number, and it’s just a starting point.

What do you think? When is an online hit a hit? Is it at 100,000 or one million? One week or one year?

  1. Our measure of a “hit” is number of active subscribers to a show. Active Subscribers = return visitors / audience members.

    A hit can be as low as 10,000 active subscribers. If you receive 1 show subscriber for every 200 views, a hit show needs 2,000,000 views across all of their videos to be considered a hit. Then, we take into the “active” versus dead/non-returning subscribers by tracking views of show subscribers.

    CEO, Mefeedia.com

  2. As a producer of a online short, I Hate Drake, that had zero celebrity affiliation and has grabbed about 155,000 plays just on youtube… I hope that hits are not just counted as what makes big waves out-of-the-gate. Thanks to the many fantstic writeups people have given us, our short seems to go through cycles of popularity and shows signs of only continuing to grow its fan base in spurts over time.

    When it didn’t reach This Land numbers upon launch, I was bummed that perhaps we had failed. But over time, we kept getting writeups. And in fact, our traffic seems to be snowballing rather than dwindling. Five months later, we’re getting more views per day that before.

    I am not saying I have a hit. I am just saying there are other ways to value a hit.

    While our short didn’t clock 500,000 views in its first week, I now feel confident that is has longevity and will continue to generate views and fwds over months, if not years. This has made the short’s sponsor, Simon & Schuster, very happy since it means their reach is perennial. Rather than making an ad buy for a banner ad that would have vanished after 7 days, they made an investment (by sponsoring my short) that will only continue to grow and will last as long as the clip remains online.

    I hope online video advertisers and communities will recognize that there are simply different categories of videos and thus different criteria for success.

    On a side note, the notion that celebrity-equals-online-success also seems a bit antiquated to me. Many big stars like Robin Williams have done web shows… that no one watched. Or knows ever existed. And the biggest Hollywood star found on YouTube is not Brad Pitt, it’s Stephen Colbert. Will Ferrel and Andy Sandberg had huge web hits based on one key factor– they had compelling video. Being famous will generate the initial clicks, but the only thing that results in something being viral (and thus huge) is its ability to be compelling. As evidence, note that the vast majority of Youtube’s most popular videos do not star Hollywood’s a-list.

    Thanks for creating a forum for this discussion by the way

  3. I think the first thing you need to do is break the online video category into 2 types of video: one time videos and video series. We work with onlinve video series and when determining whether or not a how is a hit we look at the following objective criteria: video views per month across the whole show, subscribers and web site visitors and page views since we are building shows that are brands. The subjective criteria includes user comments and feedback, discussion of the show online, referring web sites and blogs, presence on video sharing sites (Blip, YouTube, Dailymotion, etc) and online and offline press. A hit online web series is a show that has all these components going for it, like our shows Break a Leg and The Patrice Oneal Show – Coming Soon!.

  4. This is a topic we are trying to address with the newly formed. Association of Downloadable Media .

    The “ADM” Mission Statement is:

    To provide leadership in and organization of advertising and audience measurement standards, research, education and advocacy to all those involved in portable media (Podcasts/ATOM/RSS media enclosures) across the Internet, iPods, MP3 players, mobile devices, P2P and other upcoming platforms.

    We will be having an organizational meeting at the href=”http://newmediaexpo.com/”>
    Podcast and New Media Expo Sept 28th.

    So if you would like to get involved and run for a position on the board or a committee now is your chance to help jump start this conversation and get some standards in place so that advertisers, aggregators and content creators can all speak the same language and really get the online video and podcast advertising business rolling.

  5. At my previous job at espn.com I worked on a bunch of online video services, including espn motion which is the video you see on the fp and all over the site. We autostarted video which caused some bloated numbers but generally speaking we had a few clips every day that would break the 100k mark. The biggest “hit” we had was the Pacers/Pistons brawl which got over 1.5 million in the first day and if I recall about 4 million in 3 days.

    That said, tv people will scoff at anyone saying 100k is a hit. Not when american idol pulls in 40 million or even an average comedy or drama on primetime gets 10+million.

    The proliferation of video content on the web is not conducive to “hits”. There is not enough time/effort/focus given to building buzz, like a movie coming out to theaters, and there are too many other clips on sites to drive everyone to a single piece. In reality, the long-tail hurts the hit-machine.

  6. I just watched “I Hate Drake,” dave — very funny. And that’s an interesting point about the slow burn advertising. Whether or not something starts out full steam or picks up the pace later, it’s still generally left up there.

    Josh, of course the “What constitutes a TV hit?” question blows this debate out of the water. Still, American Idol?! Those people deserve better entertainment.

  7. Gah. Newteevee ate my comment!!1!

    Anywho. 100k is a good first step. That’s get into numbers for basic cableland.

    The thing that get into the tens of millions of views in the first week, those are just freaks of nature that even grandmas see — keep producing long enough and maybe you’ll get lucky and have one of those.

    We’re consistently getting 500-800k views a week, which is decent, well within the realm of cable networks. I’d like to continue to grow into a million plus a week.

    The hardest thing to do is that consistency. Even Will Ferrell has had a difficult time recreating the circumstances around his original hit.

    If you can bring in an audience in tens of thousands you’re on the right track.

  8. Agreed with Kent – it is all about building an audience / consistency, not just views. That is why we put such a large weight on # of subscribers – these are the people that say “yes, i like this show enough that i want to be updated every time there is a new episode”.

    Also, the value of a view depends on where you get it from. A view of a video on your website is generally worth a lot more than a view on YouTube. This is why RSS is so important – you can syndicate your content to many websites and each view is still considered a view from the source (assuming the aggregator doesn’t grab the file and transcode it, which is a big no-no).

  9. [...] folks at NewTeeVee.com continue to crank out thought provoking coverage of the online video world.  Chris Albrecht [...]

  10. Liz,

    100K in a week is nothing like basic cable land, it is a tiny fraction. A basic cable show (on a channel with say, 90 million subscribers like ESPN) that receives a 0.1 household rating (about as low as possible), will draw 90,000 households, or far below the cutoff point at which you get fired and have to become a kindergarten teacher!

    Individual episodes of programs available on certain VOD platforms can receive over 1 million orders per week, or among all available titles, total orders in the tens of millions per week.

    The audiences on the web are probably too fragmented for anything to attract large audiences with any degree of regularity. They may be occasional “cross-over” hits, but it’s hard to say whether it will be possible to consistently draw big audiences (say 1 million per week and above). It’s a completely different medium that I think needs to be evaluated on its own.



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