What Really Happened to Sony and Universal's 2 Billion Missing YouTube Views

YouTube, NMPA Reach 'Unprecedented' Deal to Pay Independent Music Publishers

YouTube, NMPA Reach 'Unprecedented' Deal to Pay Independent Music Publishers

On Thursday, when YouTube sent out its regular reports on view counts, one data company, SocialBlade, noticed that the channel views for Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group saw its channel count sliced by about 2 billion views.

That led some folks to conclude that the views were "fake" and that nefarious "black hat" techniques were being cooked up by the labels to falsely inflate their views. The truth, however, isn't nearly as sexy.

Interviews Billboard.biz conducted with YouTube, label executives and analysts from Next Big Sound told a very different tale. Here's what really happened.

Next Big Sound analyst Eric Czech confirmed that Universal and Sony's channel views were ratcheted down by about 2 billion in the latest count that came out of YouTube on Dec. 18. Many other channels also experienced adjustments, though perhaps not as dramatic, Czech said.

A YouTube spokesman confirmed that the company routinely adjusts their view counts in two ways. The first is by " de-spamming" the data, which takes out things like videos that automatically play without intervention from the viewer or pop-under videos that viewers may not actually see.

In the latest "de-spam," YouTube subtracted 1.5 million views from Sony and Universal's channels. That may sound like a lot, but it's just a fraction of the 1.3 billion it subtracted throughout its entire video library.

That leaves us with 1.9985 billion views still unaccounted for.

The answer comes in the second way that YouTube changed its view count. The company recently decided to remove view counts for videos that are no longer live on the channel, or so-called "dead videos." For Universal and Sony, that meant thousands of music videos that over the past three years slowly have migrated to the VEVO channel, which is jointly owned by the two companies. A senior label executive confirmed the migration.

In a strategic move, Universal, Sony and EMI in 2009 jointly put their music videos in the VEVO basket with the belief that by aggregating the videos, they could command better advertising rates as well as grow viewership.

That meant high-profile videos that once lived separately on the Universal and Sony YouTube channels have been relocated to Vevo. As a result, the views that those videos received during their time on the dedicated label channels were taken away in YouTube's latest "clean up" effort.

In other words, those views happened; they weren't "faked" or even double counted when they went on to Vevo. But because the videos are no longer on the channel, YouTube considers them "dead videos." They still live on in YouTube, just under a different channel.