The Long Tail of YouTube

(image from GapinVoid by hugh macleod)

Why is everyone is rushing to create the best walled garden for other peoples stuff? From their random musings, to their pictures and videos, it seems that everyone has bought into the idea that if you collect enough UGC (Unlikely to Generate Cash) a business will magically appear. The alchemist running UGC sites would have us believe that they can harness the magical powers of the Long Tail and transform UGC lead into advertising gold. While I’m no expert in the properties of power law distributions, nothing I’ve read about the Long Tail would indicate that a million audiences of one is the same as one audience of million.

longtail Chief among these new age shamans is YouTube, the uber popular video sharing site where you can observe everything from on air flatulence by geriatric broadcasters to the incoherent gamblings of teenage girls in tight clothing (the pyromaniacal antics of their male counterparts are also available if thats your preference). As the reigning leader of UGC (Unwatchable Generic Crud) video aggregation, and the only one with stats available online, YouTube, provided an easy source of raw data, around which to do a bit of musing.

The fact that I want a signed copy of Chris Anderson’s new book, which will be out in the US in 10 days, has absolutely nothing to do with the timing of this post. My meticulous collection of data (copy and paste job), biting analysis (conjecture buried in verbosity) and witty prose is my small (very small) contribution to the knowledge in the field. And I really want a signed copy!

Heads, Bodies and Tails, oh my
youtube I started off by gathering the rankings info (excel version here) for the “Most Viewed” videos on 7/1 and 7/3 at different times during the day. I pulled two sets since it didnt occur to me that a daily ranking of popular files wouldnt be worth much when taken at 10am. I also didnt anticipate that my time and and YouTube’s time would be different and that this might cause variances in the data but more on that later. Anyway, with some usable ranking data in hand I then needed some total numbers to use as a benchmark. YouTube claims that its daily viewership is 70 million, I’ve also seen the numbers 52 million and 35 million daily views bandied about in the media so both of are in the spreadsheet. I sent an email to the good folks at YouTube asking for the number of downloads since launch to compare against the All Time Top 100 ranking they have on the site but didnt hear back from them in time for this post. I will add it to the Editgrid sheet if they send me that info.

If YouTube has 70 million daily views as it claims, then its tail is indeed very long. The top 100 viewed video clips were watched just over 2 million times as of 10am on 7/1. Thats 2 million out of 70 million leaving a tail 68 million views long. The same is true on 7/3 just 1.93 million views of the top 100 clips, leaving a tail several multiples larger then the head. Wag the dog indeed!

YouTube is currently serving 70 million videos per day to six million unique users daily, with more than 60,000 videos being uploaded per day. -YouTube PR

With a tail as large as YouTubes, I wanted to know what traffic looked like as you moved from the top 100 clips in terms of popularity to the top 1,000 and beyond. I called on Reggie Smith, to help answer this question. Using powers of analysis and perception well beyond anything I posses, Reggie worked out how to apply of one of the many Power Law distributions to the data I collected which allowed me to put a viewership number on any rank along YouTubes long tail.

screenhunter_004.jpgWhile all this play with Excel allowed me to chanel my deeply repressed inner MBA, the really useful insight to me is how very deep into the tail users are driven. According to the model, even the 1,000,000th ranked video clip on YouTube would be able to gather a dedicated audience of 4 bored souls. If you happen to be ranked the 59,998th video on the site dont fret you would still attract a whopping 40 viewers. How do you effectivly talk to people venturing this far down the tail? From social involvement to consumption, how do you engage them in conversation thats meaningful and relavent?

I’m not a Hater I Just Read a Lot
This isnt a rant against the Long Tail, UGC (Unnerving Grotesque Capers) or even content aggregators (ie middlemen Dinosaurs). However, anyone that actually reads any of Chris Andersons musings on the Long Tail you’ll note that he is talking about commerce, the buying and selling of stuff. The observations, based on similar observations of many others, are about the increased efficiency that result when you start selling and buying online.

Despite the stories that tend to focus on the mass potential of YouTube, its real strength will never be its approximation of the broadcasting’s large audiences and one-way messaging. Smart marketers ready to experiment with matching advertising messages to profile info, keywords, tags, video content or even comments may be able to take advantage of YouTube’s long tail. The rest will ape the broadcast model in a non-broadcast medium and fail.

The Edit Grid model is still in development and there are two versions online. This one will be the latest version and “Editable” version is left open for your ideas, contributions and corrections.

Some other good sources/articles on video sharing sites:
The Lefsetz Letter on the You Tube Deal
TechCrunch chart on Social video sites


13 Responses to The Long Tail of YouTube

  1. Reader says:

    Very Interesting post. The ‘wisdom’ of the day appears to be that if you have a million people on your website, you’ll find someway to monetize your audience. Unfortunately most of these websites do not provide anything of sufficient value that people will pay for.

  2. Siddiq says:

    To me, the real issue isnt their traffic some much as why would I as a marketer, pay for it? The value in advertising in the top 20 apes the broadcast model, but thats so last year. Its not where the real action is. The real action is in the tail, where the audiences are 100 people or less. The challenge is coming up with someway to engage an audience of that size.

  3. Mr Angry says:

    Ask any salesperson – 20 qualified leads are better than 1000 cold calls. I’ve been using youtube to host videos for my blog, I’m not really trying to be a youtube star but it would be nice. I am not a blip on youtubes radar so I tried experimenting – embed a strategic image of a nude girlie and give the video a leading title and description.

    My usual vlogs generate a few hundred views over a couple of weeks. This little stunt looks like generating 10,000 views in 24 hours. But I have a strong suspicion those views would be over very low value to an advertiser.

  4. range says:

    Yeah Mr Angry, reading articles on digg and YouTube is definitely a way to crack the YouTube star thing. Your trick worked, everyone knows hot chicks get views. Like Marc Fawzi of Evolving Trends said, the way is to be able to move this initial wave of views into a more regular number of views.

    I think for an advertiser, what it boils down, is the number of views, no matter what way you go about them, as soon as they are regular.

  5. […] A look at the long tail of YouTube. If you’re not sure what “long tail” is, read this. (You know, if I think about this long enough I’m sure I can figure out how it applies to the church.) […]

  6. […] Change Is Good � Blog Archive � The Long Tail of YouTube […]

  7. scottp says:

    Thanks for the link. By the way, the other links listed there seem to be broken. At least on FF that list of 3 links all point to the same page.

  8. Siddiq says:

    Scott P – Thanks for the correction. Fixed the Links…

  9. Asi says:

    your post is really interesting and raises some BIG questions re the long tail. I think that YouTube is relevant to some of Anderson’s writing but it is hard to take it as a case study for commerce, as currently very few people use it for sales.

    we’ll have to wait and see

    keep up the good work!


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    The Long Tail of YouTube | Change Is Good

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