Secrets of the viral video

November 28, 2012
posted by sheric

Ever wonder how those big budget film trailers explode onto the internet with millions of views seemingly in hours? Is it really because the trailer is spectacular and everyone happens to be talking about it or is there something else at work?

I recently contacted Erick Brownstein of Media Needle who offer video seeding via their partner company, YTM, to find out more about how these types of services work. You may think that videos simply “go viral” on Youtube, that compelling content just attracts viewers who then happily share it. But with over 72 hours of video uploaded to Youtube EVERY MINUTE, it is highly unlikely that your video is going attract significant organic views with no help whatsoever. Every major film studio and most big brands use these seeding services to provide a high volume of views for their video campaigns for trailers and branded content.

The way YTM works is essentially via an advertising network that is connected to around 5000 premium, highly trafficked websites with advertising spaces to sell. You tell YTM what audience or category you are targeting, and they use a proprietary system called  ViewIQ to calculate about how many views you could get in a short space of time that may catapult you into trending topics (more on that in a minute). While a minimum number of views is guaranteed, your video “ad” will also benefit from organic views (those aren’t subject to additional charges) simply by being prominently featured on these sites. They also optimize the keywords in your video’s description for search engines so it will be highly placed in organic internet searches.

One thing that YTM has perfected is the ability not only to guarantee a minimum number of views, but to work within the algorithm that calculates a Youtube trending video.  Videos that make it into trending topics, which are featured on the homepage of Youtube, attract the attention of nearly 15 million additional viewers looking for what’s hot on the site. Part of Youtube’s algorithm that chooses which videos to highlight takes into account a short time frame from first upload and the variety and legitimacy of the source of the viewing traffic. It then determines a  “what’s hot” list. Videos on this list usually only enjoy a 2-4 day run before they are pushed off by other new videos, though hot videos can enjoy a long run at the top of Google search pages. However, there is no guarantee that your video will make it onto this list. It really depends on what other videos you are competing with at the time.

In other words, the seeding gets your video noticed and then organic views take over after that which can boost your view count into the millions.

Your video content is embedded with a unique code that keeps track of the number of views and where the traffic came from. This is via a proprietary system called ShareIQ. The video is then  distributed to the existing network websites, targeted to the campaign’s specifications based on geography/demographics/interest of the audience you are trying to reach. The campaign is 100% viewer initiated click, meaning one can’t just scroll over the video and it counts as a view nor does the video play automatically on a loop. The wider those audience specifications are, the more economical the price per view. The narrower the specifications, the more expensive the price per view. Views are calculated by the amount of time watched because Youtube policy dictates that a view is counted only after 15-20% of the video has played.

Now the nitty gritty, cost. YTM charges $.10-$.15 per view. In order to reach trending topics to get the organic view “kick” that really propels your video into the “viral” territory, it would cost about $50,000 (500,000 views x $.10 per view) for a campaign reaching a relatively wide audience in a short space of time. Campaigns that spend over $50,000 also benefit from additional blogger outreach by the YTM team, meaning they not only place your video on their network of sites, but they also pitch bloggers to write articles about it. You have probably read these articles on many entertainment sites about how such and such trailer for a movie is “viral” and these are the result of having a seeded campaign. There is definitely a PR benefit to having your video in the trending video list.

For a campaign more interested in reaching a highly specific audience, the cost per view is more because you are decreasing the amount of sites the video will be placed upon in order to reach a certain viewing goal. My guess is YTM makes most of its money in reaching high volume sites with general audiences that easily reach say, 500k views. If your campaign is so restrictive in its focus that it will only be applicable to say 50 sites in its network, there won’t be much margin in only charging $.10 per view since you may only hit 30,000 views so they charge a higher price per view. But let’s face it, hitting 30,000 views is not newsworthy and it won’t get your video to cut through the noise that is Youtube and its trending videos list. You could probably reach 30K through your own efforts so a video seeding service may not even be right for your work if you are satisfied with reaching this level of view count.

Having compelling content naturally attracts a potential viewer to click on your video and pass it around. Ideal length for these videos is between 2-3 minutes. Campaigns that received the biggest amount of traffic usually reach people emotionally, either through humor or compassion. Some of YTMs examples are

This one for the 20th Century Fox film Planet of the Apes-current view count 25,367,423

This one for travel company Expedia and their Find Yours campaign- current view count 2,295,966

This one for children’s animation film Dino Time-current view count 794,084

Now, I know what you are thinking…online tools were supposed to provide a FREE way to reach mass, global audiences! While it is theoretically possible to reach a mass audience for free, more often payment is needed to rise above all the others who also believe they can reach out for free. Payment also tends to expedite the process. Video seeding is not something they talk about in the Youtube Creator Playbook though, is it?

Whether you are trying to attract “buzz” for your film’s premiere (and make a big distribution deal, say at a festival like Sundance), get more people to watch your webseries or transmedia project, or sell more cinema tickets, you might want to build some significant video seeding money into your budget. It is still cheaper than TV spots and with the ability to place well in search results, it may be a smarter  and longer lasting advertising spend.

To find out more on how Media Needle and YTM can help you, contact Erick Brownstein Erick@medianeedle.com