What Constitutes an Online 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?

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