Some of YouTube’s more popular producers of original videos are quietly reporting their viewership numbers have suddenly dropped. The problem isn’t that viewer habits are changing. We’re still in love with cute kittens and people in pain. The problem is click fraud and online video producers are finally getting busted for it.

I was told last week that least some of the numbers generated by more than a few YouTube video makers who deliver hundreds of thousands of views on a regular basis come from banks of servers and zombie PCs pretending to surf. Such click fraud was a huge issue a few years ago for the Google search engine, but YouTube has separate management, remember, and maybe has different values, too.  Ever bigger numbers approaching a billion total views per day have been part of the YouTube mystique, so looking the other way may have been part of the YouTube M.O., not that advertisers will be cheered.

I remember in the late 1990s Microsoft honcho Steve Ballmer telling me how Redmond wanted back then to be the most pirated software company. Though I’m sure he wouldn’t say that today as CEO, Ballmer’s logic was clear: piracy is free distribution with zero support costs and once a country can be made to enforce copyright laws huge bucks almost instantly follow as penalties are paid. So too, YouTube benefited from click fraud by showing huge numbers that discouraged competitors and attracted advertisers, even though advertisers were actually getting less for their money.

But now it appears that YouTube is ready to grow up. Pumping Google’s own cash into professional content for the first time, the company may no longer be willing to tolerate video click fraud since it would be stealing from itself.

Some producers report views per-video that are down as much as 90 percent. All it takes is for YouTube to apply a filter that rejects clicks coming too fast from the same IP or MAC address. No citations are issued, just an algorithmic reduction of numbers. And no producer fights it because, of course, they are in the wrong to do so.

Yet many successful YouTube producers who do this trick mistakenly think it isn’t against the rules or even wrong to do.


So the YouTube ecosystem is in flux.  It will be interesting to see how YouTube changes in coming months as producers, if they are to remain in business, have to get viewers the old fashioned way, by earning them.