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A Hard Look at YouTube Views vs TV Ratings

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Written by on October 17, 2016

Over the past week, you might have seen many of us in the media industry discuss the problem with comparing YouTube views with TV ratings. It all started after YouTube released their viewer data for the second Presidential debate, where we were told that YouTube had 124 million views.

This sounded like a lot, especially when compared to the TV ratings, which only had 65.6 million viewers. So YouTube beat TV? Right?

Well, no.

This is the common problem we have every single time we talk about viewer metrics. We are simply not measuring the same thing, nor is the baseline for the measurements in any way aligned.

We have talked about this many times before, and it's a problem when we compare TV, print and digital. It's also a problem when we compare digital channels to other digital channels. Just think about the difference in how a view is measured between YouTube and Facebook. They are not remotely the same thing.

Not only are they measured in completely different ways, the consumption pattern is entirely different as well. There is a massive difference in intent, and recall rates between someone who just quickly come across a random video in their Facebook stream, and a 20 min video on YouTube that people have decided to sit down and watch.

Even if the measurements were the same, you still can't compare them. And it's the same when comparing YouTube to TV ratings.

But let me break it down for you, so that you can see exactly what was measured, and how they differ from each other.

Traditional metrics are pretty crappy too

One of the things I often see when media people start to debate digital metrics, is that there is a form of animosity towards digital metrics. Many people say that digital metrics are just one big scam, and the old metrics for TV and print are spot on.

This, of course, is not true. Digital metrics are pretty crappy in many ways, but so are the old metrics.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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