The most popular online videos of all time are a funny group. The list is affected by current events, but it doesn’t match up with the big news stories of the last five years. It has a hearty helping of music videos, but it hardly resembles the Billboard charts or a VH1 commemorative wrap-up of an era. It has long-lasting favorites like Numa Numa and Charlie Bit My Finger, but new entrants zoom up the charts all the time.
Take this past month. Video analytics firm Visible Measures just updated its “100 Million Views Club,” which tracks the top virals of all time (well, as far back as it can measure). The firm took note of two particularly fast-rising videos, both of which show enough steam that they could legitimately take the crown of the most-watched viral video of all time by the end of the year.
The first is the trailer for the next Twilight movie, New Moon. Since being released two months ago, the clip has accumulated 220 million views, making it the twelfth-most popular video ever. That’s almost as big of an impact as Susan Boyle’s initial captivating performance on Britain’s Got Talent, which generated 261 million views in its first two months. But then, New Moon will be released in theaters in November — so its true time probably has not yet arrived. Visible Measures VP of Marketing and Analytics Matt Cutler thinks at that time it could challenge for the most-watched video ever.
A popular follow-up movie in a blockbuster series, whose stars are tabloid obsessions and whose fans are of exactly the right obsessive demographic? Makes sense that it might make waves in this relatively new medium.
But the other new kid on the most-viewed list, looking like it has a good shot at going to No. 1, is Michael Jackson’s iconic 1983 music video for his hit song Thriller. That song has burned up every chart it’s ever graced, and with Jackson’s unexpected death this summer it saw a huge resurgence. Thriller was seen 80 million times in the last month, and now is the third-most popular video of all time, with 299 million views. It’s now narrowly beating out the trailer to the first Twilight movie. But while the Jackson story is hanging on tenaciously as new details come out, it will inevitably fade.
Vampires versus zombies — now this is a battle for the ages! But who are New Moon and Thriller gunning for? That’d be the out-of-nowhere hit of two years ago, Soulja Boy’s Crank Dat. The video for the 19-year-old artist’s catchy song and dance has been seen 487 million times, beating out the second-place Beyonce’s Single Ladies by more than 170 million views. (Susan Boyle, at 286 million views, has probably had her day in the sun.)
Crank That may be so-last-year to some, but it grew by more than 127 million views between
March May and August. Were it a brand-new video, that would be enough for it to re-enter the list at No. 28.
Sure, these rankings are just one company’s take, and are hardly canonized, but the fact is that every day the online video audience grows and the tools of virality evolve. Visible Measures’ Cutler tells us he’s still learning about the dynamics of the list, but that things are much more volatile than he expected. Once a video gets momentum, it’s hard to stop it, but then a major event like Jackson’s death can transform the charts. Cutler says that he thinks there’s evidence to show that “there are only so many items that can occupy our collective consciousness at once.” And while Thriller may attain what seems like its rightful throne, who knows — the Twilight series could actually have staying power.