K-pop - Do Youtube Views Matter?

People often have a polarized opinion on either views on Music Videos, be it on Youtube or other channels (in K-Pop's case, usually V-Live) have any meaning or importance. Some argue, with reason, that quantity doesn't mean quality, that niche artists will never get a view counter close to the popular artists, and that if all things considered, views are not important and are often manufactured by bots. Other will argue, again with reason, that viewership is a display of popular interest and therefore a measure of success and reach, that bots can't really change viewership as much as people think or to interfere with the end result, and that views generate ad revenue that, for basically a "free" promotion, is 100% profit. 

What then?

Music Videos are promotional material

The first thing to keep in mind is that Music Videos are not a part of revenue or merchandise, but rather a promotional material, it is nothing more than a very elaborated and oriented advertisement. In Japan, some entertainment companies do use them also for revenue, placing them as paid content in packing and limiting their free distribution as fiercely as if they were movies (thus how hard it is to find full-length Japanese MVs on Youtube), but in Korea, much like in the rest of the world, MVs are used to promote a new album or single. The aim is to spread the video far and wide expecting people to like the song and buy it.

The importance of realizing it is that the funds for Music Videos is part of the Marketing campaign, and therefore, it is already included in the promotion funds. If it eventually manages to be sold in platforms such as iTunes or even add value to a packing is a welcome extra.

Enters Ad-revenue from Youtube.

Each valid view, or "ad-revenue" view, generates a monetary return. It can vary a lot depending on how many people are using ad-blocks or repeating videos, as well other factors, but in theory you can get 1 dollar each 250~500 views (or $2~$3 each 1000 views). If you do the math, a video that manages to get to 1 million views, will net a good 2.000 dollars at least. If it manages to hit 100 million views, that's some nice 200.000 dollars, talk about earning money by doing "nothing" (as MV's are made part of the promotional content and only in the last 10 years or so started generating profits on its own). 

Hard to dispute that views matter in that sense, considering that the video were already part of the marketing campaign and technically cost "zero" extra. Even videos that reach only 500.000 views will still net a 1.000 dollar "change", which is often enough to pay for the low-budget MV's of entry-level or alternate companies.

Inflated views don't really matter

"BOTting" is common, no point in denying it, we can see fluctuations on daily/views every time another Youtube IP ban comes into place, or a Botnet is taken off-line, but the effects are often temporary. Group of fans that keep their favorite music in repeat is also pretty common, but again negligible on the main view counter:

First things off, By monitoring the latest Youtube clampdowns (as of September 2018), aoimirai.net was able to detect that as low as 5% of views can be attributed to bots, and that only in the more popular groups. However that will only be real if the botnet keeps going forever, which is not doable. Given that the first month of a video accounts to roughly 25% of the lifetime views on a video, if a botnet manages to inflate views on the first month only, it will in the end add 1.25% on the lifetime view counter. What is even more important, is that many of these views are counted towards the main public counter, but they do not count as an ad-revenue view because the botnet obviously do not download the ads and marketing campaigns, while others that manage to fool Youtube have the views deducted once discovered (aoimirai.net have detected several instances of negative views/day when that happens, don't be surprised if you head to the main page and see some happening right now). The biggest clampdown in bots observed only reduced 20% the daily view/counts, and only for a couple of days (views were static for hours while the ban was enforced and views deducted)

As for manual fans trying to repeat videos, it is of no consequence. First, a video must be played for at least some time (Youtube is always tweaking and changing the rules, but at 2015 a view were counted only if 10 seconds of the video were viewed without seeking, although today some people say it has been increased to 30 seconds). With that in mind, you can realize that to guarantee a valid view, you need to see the whole video, which means that if the video is 5 minutes long, you can only replay it 720 times a day (using multiple tabs do not net more views). Even if 100 die hard fans do that for a month without faltering, it would only add 2 million views. Sure that might seem big, but when you are talking about videos that rack up 50 millions, that is only 4% - and that is ignoring Youtube repeat restrictions. Again, there is no hard evidence on how much these restrictions apply, Youtube certainly allows you (and counts) to view a video more than once, but after a certain number of times it stops being an ad-revenue view. Even if you do not log into an Youtube account, it tracks repeats by IP, so the same person or computer will hardly ever get to 720 views a day (The limit is rumored to be more around 300 per IP, 5 per account, but that urban legend changes almost every month so you might have heard more or less yesterday, and will hear another number tomorrow, the point is: it is limited)

Therefore, inflated views won't change much the ad-revenue, after all, Youtube won't sit still and handle money to bots and repeating views. As for public views, if we consider a 50 million view video (5 years online), bots and fans would have inflated that hardly 5%.

Its also noteworthy to mention that a properly funded video as an ad (those MVs that end up showing as ads on others) can have quite a meanginful impact on views. In August 2019, POYO promoted their commercial with Momoland's Banana Chacha as an ad and managed to boost an average of 800.000 views per day, easily adding over 10 million views in two weeks. While it is possible to add views in a video like this, they nullify the revenue and instead become an expense, but with such view numbers, it might be worth to run a couple of weeks as an ad to get the word out - remember, Music Videos are promotions, not a product.


Music Videos are the main portal of the Hallyu Wave, as well domestic marketing

Excluding the very real profit made from revenue on the videos, and going back to the true purpose of MV's, their value as promotional material is irrefutable - thus how present they are on every debut, single and comeback. The big Korean Entertainment companies even signed together an agreement in 2018 to improve the production and dissemination of MV's, highlighting how important as well efficient this marketing is.

A video with even a below-average viewership (which as of 2018 would be something with 1 million views in a month) will still be present enough to attract interest from people who never heard of an artist, or get a renewed interest in a known artist. Average videos or even above-average videos end up ambassadors of the Hallyu wave, spreading the song, the artist and the Korean Music Industry to all corners of the world, and view count plays an important part on how Youtube select what to highlight and "suggest" to other people, as well show the interest the Music Video (not the song, not the artist, the MV itself, the marketing) is responding..

View counts is about marketing, not success.

With all that in view, it is important to highlight that something with high view count don't mean that the content is successful, but rather that that marketing content was successful. Take PSY for instance, after Gangnam Style, every of his new release MV got huge view counts, proving how important that first MV was to rack up interest. However, being a niche artist, people quickly realized they were fan of Gangnam Style, not of Psy, and consistently every new release got less and less attention. Does it mean the new musics were inferior to Gangnam Style? Not at all, some are clearly better, but it aims at a certain niche public, and the more recent view counts reflect the true audience of PSY. It is important to realize that view count should be taken RELATIVE to the niche target. If you have a small fan base, then 1 million views is an enormous success. If you have an international hardcore fanbase, then 10 million views is a fiasco, all the more exacerbated when you realize that if the MV, the marketing material, didn't attract enough attention, let alone the real content.

So, do View Counters matter?

In short, absolutely. They represent true revenue to the artists, they represent true interest in the material, and they are often proportional to subsequent interest and sales. What doesn't matter, and that is what most people mean when they say "view count doesn't matter", is that comparing different musics and different artists view counters have absolutely no meaning, since they are relative to their own fan base, niche market and targeted campaign.

So what can you say when you see a video go beyond 100 million views? not "it is that good", but "it attracted that much attention". 

What DO count to check the "health" of an artist?

The big three: Endorsements (the bigger the company, the better), Concerts (if the artist is the main attraction, or part of it), and of course Sales. Keeping in mind that the more popular K-pop artists, specially groups, are Idol groups, then Endorsements are certainly the core objective of their revenue strategy. Idol groups create an image, a brand, that is then sold as endorsement, while singers don't really care about that, and want to rather just sing their song, thus being more Concert/sales/fanbase oriented.

For popularity, most metrics represent some kind of attention, but few can be used to check if a group is doing well. Most appearances and metrics are usually more of a promotional effect than a metric of success.

The exception of all these are niche groups that manage to go by with few sales and endorsements but a solid faithful fan-base.