Numbers Guy Pans Viral Factory Video List

StarWarsKid.jpgI’ll be honest: We reporters have reams of numbers spewed at us on a daily basis, and most of us weren’t exactly math masters. Even more the reason I’m so fascinated with this week’s The Numbers Guy column in The Wall Street Journal Online. Digit wiz Carl Bialik takes on the self-proclaimed “viral marketing experts” at the Viral Factory. The firm put out a list of top viral video clips recently (that annoying kid with the light sabre topped it), based on numbers that are specious at best. Here’s how Bialik breaks it down:

Videos are often spread via email, which, thankfully, can’t be tracked. So the Viral Factory also counted the number of relevant Google search results for each video, estimated the number of versions of each video (people make mash-ups and homages of popular online videos), and guessed how many videos the average viewer watched. For some videos, these guesses were informed by informal email surveys among a couple dozen friends of the company’s employees.

….The final estimate of 900 million came from taking the number of Google search returns today; assuming there are five times as many Web sites, cumulatively, since the video debuted in 2003; estimating that one-third of these are “blogs / articles / forum posts”; that each of those were read by, on average, 50 people; that of those people — supposedly no one read more than one of those sites — three of four watched one or more clips; that of those who watched, each watched on average 10 of the roughly 120 versions of the video; and that on average these “Star Wars” Kid fans would watch each clip once a year, or three times in all. That’s 500,000 * 5 * 1/3 * 50 * 0.75 * 10 * 3 = 945 million.

This obviously has implications for online advertisers who go by numbers such as the ones employed here to determine what’s of value online. It also serves to temper the mania surrounding CGM and viral video.

Sure, the fact is lots and lots of people have seen the videos that made it big online this year. But just think: All it takes is one late night talk show or goof off entertainment show (like the one I watch in the midst of Sunday afternoon hangovers, VH1’s Best Week Ever) to show one of these clips and immediately dwarf the numbers it takes days, weeks, or months for big Web sites to garner.

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