Barry Cleveland: Beware the YouTube Demon Freezer!

| September 14, 2011

You’ve produced a video featuring your music, and you plan to promote it on YouTube.

Congratulations—but beware!

There are certain quirks in the way that YouTube registers how often your video has been played, and at some point the count will very likely freeze.

I discovered this the hard way.

At first, all will appear well, and every time your video is played, the counter will tick up one. In fact, it will even tick up one when your video is only played partially.

This happy situation will likely continue until your video has been viewed about 300 times—some say 200 or 250—at which point the view counter will no longer register plays.

There have been thousands of complaints about this issue, including dozens in video form posted on YouTube itself. In fact, there were so many complaints that apparently whole threads on a YouTube forum, and a YouTube group founded in response to the problem, have been removed.

But the company has failed to acknowledge that there is a problem, let alone explain what is going on.

I found a single forum post from a few years ago (now vanished) that claimed the freezes were the result of a filter designed to keep people from gaming the system. But if so, why freeze the view count entirely and arbitrarily—sometimes for weeks or even months? Surely there aren’t that many cheaters, and even if there were, so what? So someone gets his or her family, fans, or friends to play a video multiple times? What is the crime, and is it really worth penalizing every user in order to thwart the small percentage that may do so?

Philosophical considerations aside, this issue can impact you very negatively when promoting your video—as it did me.

Just about the time plays for my “Warning” video approached 300, I included a link to it in a newsletter sent to the 800 people on my mailing list, ran an ad for the video on Facebook, and tweeted about it. Around that time I also posted a blog called How I Made a Music Video For $12.00, detailing the techniques used to make the video. I know from the many responses I received, that a lot of people viewed that video—yet once it got to 307 plays it froze for two weeks, and all of my promotional efforts were for naught (at least in terms of registering the all-important counter number).

I wrote to YouTube Support. No response. I tried to navigate the maze of contacts on the company’s Contact Us page, but to no avail.
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Now, as it so happens, YouTube headquarters is located two blocks from the Guitar Player offices, so I decided to stop by to see if anyone could explain what was going on. When I reached the locked front door I was instructed by a disembodied voice to pick up a phone located beside the door. I picked up the phone, but the voice began speaking to me from an intercom above the phone. I explained that I was a journalist from down the street, that I was writing a blog about promoting music on YouTube, that I’d had this problem, and that I’d like to include YouTube’s official position in my blog. The voice said I should contact Support. When I explained that I already had, it instructed me to contact someone via the Web site. When I asked whom I should contact, or even which department, the voice refused to tell me. After several more minutes of similar obfuscation, I shrugged and walked away.

Oddly enough, that very evening a message appeared on all YouTube administration pages saying that there had been a problem with registering plays for the past week, but that everything had been fixed, and over the next few days all unregistered plays would be restored (even though the problem had been occurring for years).

Eventually, another 150 or so plays were added to my video’s count, and the meter appeared to be working—though it froze again for several days at various points, and is still behaving erratically.

So, based on what I’ve gleaned, my advice to those who would promote videos on YouTube is:

Don’t play your own video more than a few times at any point or it may be interpreted as gaming the system.

Ask your family, fans, and friends not to “help” you by playing the video repeatedly, especially before the count reaches 300.

And whatever you do, wait until the count exceeds 300 before launching any major promotional campaigns!

These three steps aren’t guaranteed to save you from the YouTube Demon Freezer—but they may at least give you a fighting chance.

Good luck!


P.S. Here’s the video in question:

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