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What Constitutes an Online Hit?

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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. 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, 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?

31 Responses to “What Constitutes an Online Hit?”

  1. i agree, we can not look at this in a traditional manner, we must generate a scale that can apply based on a sites reach. The footprint of a site will vary. Larger corporations and brands will have a bigger pool that will be automatic views.

    A hit for a large footprint would be based on the uniques, for a smaller site, it would be on total views, including replays. Replays would help identify content that has longevity, and help define what content the user base may be more interested in from that particular site.

    The work i do on has seen our numbers grow dramatically with the inclusion of a new video player. But since our videos are not viral, the hits are lower than what they could be. We have done over 2 million, which is good, any time your server dies do to demand, you have to be doing something right… outside of having a bad host.

  2. Here’s a questions:

    How many downloads does IMDB require before they’ll accept a webseries into their database?

    If you’re not in their database, you don’t exist, and they are the staple for traditional media. Also, they have a pretty hefty filter system (plus a holding period) before you can get in it.

    Actors who were in our short-lived series, Flipper Nation, are always asking us if we will put it up for them, but our audience is so niche that we never made a big enough dent in views.

    More than anything, though, there needs to be someway to educate those outside the industry (or at least the check-writers), so online producers can get paid what their worth.



  3. Well, we are “New Media” right? So why look at this in the traditional ways? Of course we need stats and real numbers.

    But the web gives us a few unique things that we haven’t had before. First, is very low (or zero, thanks YouTube) distribution costs. Couple this with very low production costs (Canon HV20 and an iMac) and you are a now a $2,000 TV studio in your bedroom.

    Second, is global distribution. Yes, you still need people to find your content. That’s the hard part.

    What happens is that this opens up niche programming to almost no longer be niche. It is a “global wide niche”. Because your distribution and production costs are low you could in theory produce a very targeted show.

    This is what is key and new. There is the potential for very focused delivery of content to very passionate small audiences.

    This is when you then turn to advertisers and show them that you have their exact target audience.

    Would Sony be better of advertising Blu-Ray players to milions during CSI or to a few thousand die hard home theater geeks that watch a home theater focused video podcast?

    It hasn’t happened just yet but it is coming. Big mass appeal hits will still happen. But there will also be a big market for finding real targeted viewers.

    Sorry for the novel.

  4. Chris Albrecht

    I don’t think you’re old fashioned at all.

    There’s a ton of great discussion here. A lot of good points. But my concern is that we are paying attention to too many factors.

    Are we overthinking this?

    As Web people, we specialize in clarity. Stripping something to its essence in a digestible format that makes information gathering fast and easy. I’m a big believer in hitting people over the head with information — and while it might rile some people — I think we need that here.

    As “old media” as it may sound, I think we, as an industry, need to be more definitive. If we can unite behind a metric that is quantifiable, people outside this industry will understand it better.

  5. Call me old fashioned, but I think that the definition of a “hit” should somehow be related to making money.

    lets assume a generous eCPM of $20 for an online video and assume just one ad unit per stream.

    100k streams = $2k
    1m streams = $20k
    10m streams = $200k.

    None of these are big numbers in absolute terms, or even relative to anything considered a hit on TV or in film.

    Granted, production costs are lower and if you do the math on a $/min basis, then “hits” with total streams in the millions start to become comparable to what could legitimately be called a hit in traditional media

  6. This is a great question. It and others like it have quickly made you one of the must-read blogs on this space.

    This entry prompted me to distill our company’s view of this question on our own blog (see article of same name at

    Our view is that something has succeeded when the audience has grown to the size needed to sustain continued creation by the content creator himself (or herself.)

    In other words, once that property has a large enough pull, it has the means to monetize. Some properties rely solely on Advertising, which is simply selling that large audience to someone else. Others rely solely on Merchandising (e.g. Homestar Runner) which means the sale of their own goods TO the audience. Many also leverage sponsorships (e.g. Rooster Teeth) and some even create their own conventions (Penny Arcade) but all of these examples represent self-sustaining enterprises. Most rely on a combination of revenue sources but the key feature that we submit defines success is “Does your own audience sustain your continued creative expression?” Self-sustaining growth doesn’t just keep you paid, it alters how the audience perceives you. They often intuitively sense they are interacting WITH YOU. This deepens their connection to you and increases their likelihood of supporting your endeavors.

    We think that this definition represents a truer, deeper success and delivers the question from pure numbers games. Now, how long this can be achieved with Net Neutrality and who knows how many consolidation/squeeze plays looming out there remains an open question. Perhaps a question for a subsequent post.

  7. I am of the opinion that this is an issue of terms and definitions. Online video has appropriated the vocabulary of traditional media. This was probably equal parts inertia and the desire to make online delivery seem more familiar.

    However problems arise when vocabulary is shared, but so many of the fundamentals are different.

    Just off the cuff – the most telling example of this irreconcilable schism is “The Long Tail” vs. “Syndication”. Syndication is the holy grail for a show distributed through traditional, bottlenecked methods. For an IP distributed, on-demand series, syndication is not only automatic, but inevitable. Once a show goes live on the interwebs, it is effectively impossible to remove it from distribution.

    Similarly, the traditional definition of “hit” contains with it an assumption of traditional distribution channels and their bottlenecks. It was a zero-sum game; the bigger you got, the smaller everyone else had to be. The size of the pie was fixed, and everyone just fought to make their slice the biggest.

    I see the situation online again as fundamentally different (*). Content is distributed on-demand, globally, in perpetuity. The pie is now as big as the sum total of human attention (at least the parts that are wired, speak your language, and are sitting, bored, in a cubicle).

    Not only that, but as an evolving media market – I want other people to be successful. It is my belief that with increasing mind-share comes legitimacy, and with legitimacy comes opportunities for revenue.

    I could give two shakes about abstractions and “views” – however and whomever is counting those. A hit show is one that pays for season one, and finances season two. If you want to do art for arts sake – I would recommend the Theatre. The parties are better and the poverty-ethic deeply engrained and much more forgiving.

    (*) It’s all just feeding pies to whales – as many pies as they want.

  8. 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.


  9. 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).

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. At my previous job at 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.

  13. 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=””>
    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.

  14. 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!.

  15. 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

  16. 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.