The numbers are in: Video Game High School 2 is a hit. I guess. Probably. Perhaps. Maybe.
Episode 1 of the highly anticipated sequel—the first show produced in YouTube’s Los Angeles studio—generated 1.3 million views in the first three days following its July 25 debut. Episode 2, released late last week, is on its way to surpassing 1 million views, according to YouTube’s public data. And per sources, VGHS2 has pulled in an additional 600,000 views on RocketJump.com, the site managed by creators Freddie Wong and Matt Arnold.
Those numbers sure sound impressive. But given that the first season of VGHS generated some 55 million views, one could argue that more views would have been expected. As for how many people have watched VGHS2: Who knows? Does anybody?
The fact that we don’t know the answer is nuts.
Consider the fact that YouTube is aggressively courting advertisers, including many TV buyers, in an attempt to shift dollars to Web video. Its elaborate Brandcast presentation in May was all about illustrating the massive media consumption revolution that is going on, particularly among younger demos. If you’re not paying attention, big old-school brands, you should be, rang the message.
It kind of hurts your case when you can’t tell people how many people are actually watching one of your biggest shows—particularly one that's shot in your production facility.
I know. This isn’t TV. You buy audiences on the Web. Reach doesn’t really matter for any one show because you can make it up in aggregation, etc., etc. Tell that to the 50-year-old TV buyers who went to your upfront and are now busy moving more dollars from NBC to AMC.
Wouldn’t it help YouTube's (and the medium’s) cause if it could issue a statement along the lines of “Video Game High School 2 reached more viewers than Breaking Bad, or Adult Swim, or Hallmark, or anything?” (Unless the numbers are really bad, that is. Surely some Wong fans do watch episodes again and again. Is it possible most do?)
It’s increasingly clear that video views are a meaningless metric. I wasn’t at VidCon last week, but it's fair to ask: Did any of the creators there not have a lot of views? As Wong himself told me, views are easy to manipulate. “If I want more, I can just put more breaks in my videos,” he said. “There you go, I doubled my views.”
You have to credit Google/YouTube for always publishing view counts right there on its site for the world to see. Views are at least an indicator of which videos have life and which don’t. And everyone seems to believe that Google is working on some sort of apples-to-apples reach metric. So where is it?
One industry observer suggested to me that maybe it’s technically difficult for Google to calculate viewership numbers. Yet somehow AOL was able to do it for Live 8. In 2005.