Universal and Sony Record Companies Caught Faking Billions of YouTube Views

A few weeks ago I first saw a web ad that ran something close to, "Know who probably buys clothes? People who watch fashion videos... YouTube Ads work." It struck me as fairly profound, though obvious at the same time, because it rings pretty true. Of course, how true it rings is contingent on people actually watching videos to see those ads -- something that's simply not happening (at least as much as it appears) when views are artificially generated. We've covered view inflation and cheating YouTube before -- but now, YouTube has accused two of the largest record companies in the world of 'click fraud,' and has 'confiscated' an unprecedented two billion views as a result. Talk about your parent catching you "clicking yourself" under their roof, huh?

Here's TubeFilter's summary of the situation, earlier reported by Daily Dot and DailyMail:

Universal’s official page previously offered a wide selection of music video offerings, but after its recent run-in with the YouTube law, the channel is nearly blank, with just five videos left (none of which are music videos). Universal was the most watched channel on YouTube; even after losing more than a billion hits, it has still raked in more than 5.8 billion views. That titanic total remains intact for now, but the remaining videos on the channel account for fewer than 600,000 of those views. Sony BMG‘s channel is now completely blank, with most of the confiscated views coming away from the pages of several of its artists, many of whom are affiliated with VEVO.

Meanwhile, according to DailyMail, "music industry sources have blamed it on housekeeping related to the migration of their videos across different channels" -- and while I'm not exactly sure what that actually means, it sounds some ways off from an outright admittance of guilt, on anyone's part. Whatever the case may be, YouTube ads constitute an easily accessed and high-profile revenue stream for artists -- however negligible the payouts may be (more on this later, hopefully) -- for musicians and filmmakers alike. All joking about being caught 'click-handed' aside, this is an issue both YouTube and its high profile users will have to address further, and more importantly, reconcile. For everything to continue running hunky dory, advertisers must be able to depend on the numbers YouTube claims as accurate -- a sole demographic of clicking robots is likely low on advertisers' list of viewer groups to target.

The DailyDot has updated its original post to include a somewhat blissfully ignorant and deflective response from UMG:

Universal acknowledged the sudden drop in views, and told the Daily Dot that the Universal Music Group channel, though popular, has been mostly dormant since the company shifted its focus to individual channels hosted on Vevo.

What do you guys think about this? Is this a problem that you would like to see YouTube address? For anyone who makes money on YouTube, what do you think about all of this?


[via TubeFilter]

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Your Comment


Do any of you guys believe anything you see on the Internet? Really?

December 31, 2012 at 5:38AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I would've believed the reported numbers. I'm at the point where when I'm driving in the car almost everything I listen to streams from youtube.

December 31, 2012 at 6:20AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Isn`t this a case of heavy fraud? Music industry must be deep shit if they need fraud money to keep their "business" running...

December 31, 2012 at 7:24AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


It's done to make new artists and songs look like they are break-out viral sensations even though no one has watched their videos yet. The journalists are willing co-conspirators, always quoting YouTube views as "proof" that the public really demands this stuff, even though the public doesn't know anything about it yet. The labels and promoters paying for the botnets that run up the view counts get to appear as if they have real marketing muscle when all they are doing is priming a pump. It's not intended to generate ad revenue and almost certainly costs more than the ad money coming back if any. It's intended just a laugh track in a sitcom or fake applause in an event video, to make the product look like everyone else loves it. People are sheep and for some reason believe these numbers.

This has been done for years, myspace was very susceptible to it for instance. I think everyone knew about it after a while. But YouTube has replaced myspace and Youtube is owned by one of the biggest advertisement sellers in the world, Google. And as they transition Youtube to an advertising driven model the ad agencies were probably complaining about the discrepancies in the statistics that were coming up on certain music videos. And Google brass finally had enough and said that's over we can't let them corrupt our statistics to the customer, who is the advertiser not the music fan. And the labels probably threatened to yank all their content off Google if they revealed the practice, and things finally broke down between them.

Dirty business.

December 31, 2012 at 8:35AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


thanks for explaining!

December 31, 2012 at 9:01AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


here is a cool video on what they do on youtubes end for view counts


December 31, 2012 at 8:39AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


great video!

though sometimes youtube freezes viewcounts when the video already has thousands of views. what little I've found out about that tells me that youtube will freeze any viewcount that they have reason to suspect is due to foul play. they then freeze the "fake" viewcount, until the real one catches up.

December 31, 2012 at 9:57AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


It's amusing and predictable how the Googler nervously dances around the crux of the matter. The 300 view count is probably the point at which advertising becomes relevant or enabled or decided on, and that is Google's core business. And the verification of the view count (which he alludes to as a "currency" mmhmm) is really about making sure there aren't bots shaking down ad money from the Google tree.

But even so Google clearly tolerated at least some of the viewcount manipulation because it was readily available to purchase (just search on...Google.) by any and all. What Google insisted on, however, was that it cost more for those services to run up the viewcounts than the persons getting the ad revenue would make. So rogue botnets were not tolerated but I imagine some official ones were, otherwise there would be no way for Sony and Universal and any Joe on the street to add views for a price.

Google would reach for plausible deniability and say the hackers who circumvented their measures were just very good at it and that's why they were paid so much to do it. But Google benefitted from the free publicity and the major label content and the constant journalistic coverage of how Rebecca Black's video had "10 million YouTube views in a day!" or some other dubious figure. It was tolerated on the Q.T. as long as it cost more than it made back and was thus a form of advertising expense for the promoters.

If the jig is up and Google is eliminating phony views (note they don't need to put a lid on "likes" because likes do not affect advertising, likes can only help it) then we're probably going to get the odd clueless journalist citing YouTube viewcounts of 2013 songs vs. 2012 songs and claiming statistical proof that the music business really, truly is dead now! YouTube views have plummeted and no one cares about music anymore! So the labels probably decamped to Vevo or someone else who agreed to stanch that kind of publicity (which would hurt their stock prices and investor confidence) by giving them, at a price, the statistical fictions they need to maintain appearances.

December 31, 2012 at 10:47AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I can't really comment on this but of news outside of this: Whether or not the removal of these high-traffic videos is due to fraud of any kind, I'm sure a conglomerate like Universal isn't terribly affected by it. They have more than one marketing avenue set up, as should any good marketer.

The companies (if there were outside companies) advertising on Universal's videos might need some reassurance that doing so in the future won't result in something similar.

December 31, 2012 at 10:30AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Although these major labels makes the story that much more relevant, nobody is reporting that YouTube is cracking down on all users who buy views. Should send a warning out there ;)

December 31, 2012 at 11:02AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I find it amusing that people think companies AREN'T buying views. I tried it once just to experiment with the process and it was way too easy. I bought like 5,000 views for $10 on a website. The next day I had 30,000 views and was like 'uh oh that was a few more than I was expecting!' The interesting thing is all of the views came from facebook. Facebook must be an easy way for them to post videos and then have tons of people (or scripts) hit the facebook pages to play the video on repeat.

December 31, 2012 at 11:12AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

You voted '+1'.
Clayton Arnall

This is REALLY how views are generated. :)

December 31, 2012 at 1:42PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Now i understand why a lousy and cheesie video I watched a few months ago, raised one day from 20 views, to over 1000 in less than 2 days, and wasn't a viral one, cause then stopped getting views.

January 2, 2013 at 7:28AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


how about Youtube bans those companies off their site? Oh but they won't because they're a big corporation who might provide them with millions of dollars!

Fuck you youtube. You are a parasite.

January 3, 2013 at 1:54PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


The music industry has been buying its way into the market ever since radio started. Social Networking is here to represent reality, a bottom up approach, where we are no longer dictated to by corporations smudging the figures.

Google has shown their power and spanked a couple of major music companies. GOOD

Google treats all the same on policy.

and if they stray too far from public policy, users will go somewhere else.

January 3, 2013 at 9:56PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Paul Abrahams

I think it would take a lot for people to go somewhere else (Google). People don't like change. We've all known for many years how the entertainment industries operate. But we've all played along. In the 60's music companies and band managers were getting people to go into record shops and buy lots of copies of their bands latest single (chart rigging) I suspect Hollywood did something similar to up the anti on cinema tickets etc etc etc etc..... Now, nothing has changed, things have just got a bit more high tech and to be fair, a lot easier to rig.

This is just one of the reasons marketeers aim a lot of their effiorts at youth, because they will buy the hype, Litteraly. In fact that's exactly what hype is ''riigging'' It's about telling the taget audience that what they are seeing is so popular that they should hurry up and buy into it or risk being left out of the loop. And sugesting that being left out of the loop will make them undesirable and unpopular. What teenager or kid wants to be undesirable....hello.

January 6, 2013 at 8:27AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


I suspect a lot of big companies are purchasing fake views, if you see a ad for a video with over 1,000,000 views you instantly think it must be good because so many people have watched the video.
If they ran an ad for a new video with 100 views I guess the amount of clicks/views would be a lot lower.

For our stock video clips on YouTube we average about 400-500 views and these are genuine which leads to good traffic to our website.

July 30, 2013 at 4:39AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM