SocialBlade crunched some numbers for Kotaku and determined that, since the first half of the year, YouTube views are now 5-7% lower. Between July and September, that decrease was 10%. It's pretty significant.
Here's the graph they drew up:
SocialBlade Community Manager Danny Fratella explained over email how he put together the graph:
"I started by pulling daily view/sub growth data from January 1, 2016 - November 30, 2016 for every channel with more than 10 million subscribers. From there, I weeded out channels that weren't actually YouTube personalities; accounts managed by record labels (like VEVO channels) and television studios (like The Ellen Show), primarily. That left us with 49 of the biggest channels on YouTube."
SocialBlade says their metrics are reliable. They pull data directly from YouTube's API. But over Twitter on Monday, YouTube accused some third party apps of poorly representing subscriber activity, pointing directly to SocialBlade. SocialBlade fired back that they don't make up data, adding that "our data is only as good as what we're able to get from you:)."
@TeamYouTube Ouch ;( We don't make up data. We get it from the YouTube API. We rely on it for accuracy. If it has issues maybe ping them?
— Social Blade (@SocialBlade) December 20, 2016
It's worth noting that YouTube's view-counting algorithm is unknown because it's proprietary. But Fratella says "we know that watch time plays a role, but there are likely many other metrics taken into account."
Why YouTube views have gone down is unclear, but some good theories are floating around. Fratella pointed to two potential causes: view audits and altered video-promoting algorithms. During view audits, YouTubers don't actually lose views. YouTube is removing botted or invalid playbacks from the view count. This happens all at once in a sort of purge -- something YouTube has explained publicly. But now that YouTubers have tools like SocialBlade to more rigorously moderate their data, they may be noticing these purges more, Fratella suggested.
He added that SocialBlade doesn't see view counts purged as often as subscriber counts -- the main complaint going around YouTube communities. Although YouTubers have widely complained that fans are now randomly unsubscribed from their channels, YouTube and SocialBlade both told me that they have noticed nothing out of the ordinary in subscription data.
YouTube's video-promoting algorithm may also play a role in an apparent decreased viewership. What videos the platform draws more eyes to reflects their philosophy on what videos should go viral. Fratella directed me to a YouTube video by Derek Muller (Veritasium) in which he speculates on why more widely distributed video promotion could affect views. So, for example, when a channel with millions of subscribers regularly puts out a video, the latest of those videos may not deserve to go as viral as some guy's rapidly-shared mobile phone video of a breaking news event.
For more on that:
Why views are 5-7% lower across the board may have nothing to do with audits or promotion algorithms. It may be a ghost, or the hand of God. Who knows? With SocialBlade's stats, the decrease at least feels more tangible. The mysterious subscription declines, however, are still mysterious.