Imaginary Bitches Recipient of Imaginary Views?

Is the latest breakout series on YouTube the beneficiary of view scamming?

An unexpectedly successful, non-studio affiliated show starring All My Children actress Eden Reigel as a lonely-slash-possibly schizo girl who conjures imaginary friends, Imaginary Bitches has been racking up the views lately: At least one episode has been viewed over 1 million times, and several other episodes have view counts in the high six figures.

Ostensibly, the show’s popularity is derived from Reigel’s star power, plus cameos from other soap actors such as Jessalyn Gilsig, Greg Rikaart and Elisabeth Hendrickson. The boldface names have prompted coverage in pubs including NYPost.com, US Weekly and TVGuide.com, and the series was recently featured on YouTube’s home page.

But despite these bona fides, at least one anonymous IB detractor — a tipster who wrote a detailed account of his suspicions to NTV — accused IB of using fake MySpace profiles, MySpace spamming and YouTube’s autoplay embeds to generates tens of thousands of fake views.

Pointing to the inbound links on each IB vid on YouTube, our tipster noted the high number of views coming from suspicious MySpace profiles. For example, Episode 1 links include 4,463 views from Pam/Jenna (a fake Office profile). Episode 7 links include 18,938 views from Leona Lewis (a UK pop artist). There are several more examples, with each MySpace profile showing the video in the comments field, never embedded by the actual profile owner. Sometimes the videos appear in comments far removed from the profile’s front page.

Andrew Miller, the series creator and writer, denies any wrongdoing.

“We stopped doing that,” he said, referring to the practice of distributing embedded videos in comments. “There are sites out there that say they guarantee a certain number of views or plays or whatever, but honestly, I can’t afford that. And when you do it that way, I don’t think it even counts.”

A YouTube spokesperson said that autoplaybacks are not counted toward the visible “views” numbers displayed on YouTube because those playbacks are not viewer initiated.

Miller said that he and Reigel spent hours promoting the show to MySpace bloggers, and asked Reigel’s enthusiastic fan base to help out. Every time a show premieres, he said, they send the video to their MySpace contacts. “It’s our fans who have done the bulk of the work. They pass the episodes along, they blog about them, they comment, they message board, create avatars and write to other bloggers…Without an Eisner-type marketing budget, episode sharing is the best way we know to find an audience.”

Miller is currently finishing post-production work on IB’s first season. “We haven’t made any money, and this is all out of pocket expenses,” he said, adding that he’s been shopping around the series to several sites. He attributes the show’s success to his wife’s fans, the show’s content and help from friends. “We’ve gotten by on favors from friends, really.”

In fact, he added, “We’re about to start work on season two, and I’m just about out of favors.”

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