Based on anecdotal evidence from several top YouTube video producers, we have reason to believe the site has stopped counting views from videos set to play automatically on pages around the web.
We first took notice of the issue when popular producers contacted us saying they’d seen a dramatic drop-off in the number of views they receive for new videos. It’s possible that YouTube has adjusted more than one aspect of its view count methods, and it’s also possible that the view count methods are just malfunctioning. But enough people are mentioning the autoplay issue that we think there’s a good chance that’s the issue.
We asked YouTube to comment, but haven’t been back. We will update this post when we do.
While YouTube videos automatically start playing on its own pages, when they are embedded on other web pages they are set by default to wait for a user to click the play button. However, it’s possible to tweak the embed code so a video plays automatically each time someone visits a page.
YouTube has reason to fight back against gaming of its view counts to maintain the integrity of its service as well as its relationships with partners and advertisers. In a prominent recent example, Avril Lavigne fans had created a page that autoplayed and auto-refreshed the video for her single “Girlfriend” in an attempt to make it the most popular YouTube video of all time and knock off the long-reigning champion, “Evolution of Dance.” (“Evolution” is still ahead, due in part to anti-Avril backlash; it currently has 91.2 million views while “Girlfriend” has 90.8 million.) In another case, a fan-produced video for a Brazilian pop song was removed from YouTube after it rose to the top of the leaderboard through unclear methods.
Even if YouTube revenue share doesn’t quite provide a living for many of its popular user partners, their popularity on the service is hugely important to them. One prominent YouTube producer complains,
“This COMPLETELY screws up our business, and we’re getting frustrated that nothing’s happening. The one big metric we tell our funders about is the # of views, and now we have no idea what they are! Our entire distribution strategy is based around driving views up on youtube with our pretty sizable audience, and then encouraging them to spread it to social sites like digg and elsewhere.”