Sunday, 17 February 2013

West Midlands video viewing numbers

Some West Midlands artists are racking up viewing figures numbers that outstrip viewing figures for established names. Time to take a closer look...

This time last year, I had a stab at measuring airplay for local bands. It was fun but inconclusive. That said, more bands and acts are scoring national airplay this year, but the local airplay picture remains pretty drab. So I've yet to go back into that particular data mine - but I plan to. 

This year, it's been hard to ignore YouTube numbers for some of the acts I've featured on this blog. For example, both George Barnett and Electric Swing Circus have numbers that put some mainstream artists to shame.

So I did a bit more digging: some rough and ready research to try to get a picture of which local West Midlands acts are doing well on YouTube (and Vimeo - although the Vimeo numbers are in the main dwarfed by the YouTube scores). It's produced quite an interesting chart... but it's also something of a statistical minefield. Details, names, rankings, numbers, the all-important criteria and more after the jump.

First, here's the criteria:
  1. I set a cutoff point of 10,000 views for the two most watched videos by an act. Acts who scored less than that for their videos didn't make the list. 
  2. Videos had to be 'official' or produced, and uploaded in the past 3 years. Live clips didn't count - although that, sadly, rules out Ruby Turner, who gets great numbers for her live BBC2 work with Jools Holland.
  3. Artists with no significant action before going straight to a major label were excluded.
  4. Established artists with worldwide followings (like Robert Plant) were also excluded.
  5. Current songs only – new uploads of ancient material ruled out.
  6. As broad a spread of genres as possible 
And this gives us the following set of rankings: 
Oceans Ate Alaska stunned at Chart success

Video 1
Video 2
To Catch A Flame
Aao Ji Ji
Christmas Aya
Give Me The Sign
King City
White Lies
Knew We were trouble
Green Garden
Jago Ayiya
Independent Girl
Where The Devil Sleeps
Lone Rose
Penniless Optimist
Ev’body Wants To Be A Cat
We're A Crowd
There It Is
Incapable of Love
Nowhere Is Home
Washed Out Summer
Wax Poetic
Where Has the Money Gone
Hole In The Universe
Cockney Thug
Femme Fatale
The Captain
Let the World See The Light
Lady Colour
Last Of Me
So Sofia
Carnival Of Sin
Hope Springs Eeternal
Surround You
Stay In
Six against Eight
Sign In Tune In Drop out
Rhubarb And Custard
Wenceslas Square
A Cautionary Tale

Now, before I go any further, I have to say upfront that this chart does not represent watertight methodology. It is indicative only, and the picture is blurred by Google’s and Vimeo’s very wobbly numbers, which fluctuate weirdly, up and down, from day to day. When double-checking this week, I found that sometimes the totals had gone down by a few hundred on a specific video. So, not an exact science – think of this as a ballpark set of figures.

Bear in mind, too, this very interesting Guardian piece from late last year…covering industrial-scale YouTube numbers manipulation

Numbers manipulation is not just industry-wide, either; it can be as local as you want. Here’s why: in searching for tools to measure YouTube views, I stumbled across up a whole search results page of websites from companies who can buy you views. 10,000 YouTube views for £20 seems to be the going rate. Arguably, if you’re a local band, you might find something better to spend your money on. Arguably.

So to try to avoid these sorts of old-school shenanigans, the artists on the above list are mainly, but not exclusively, unsigned, or recording on their own labels. The problem with measuring a video by an artist signed to a major label is that, again, you can’t really trust the numbers.

Seems to me that the YouTube database ought to be able to yield a hell of a lot of interesting information, given the tools to suck the correct data out. I’m quite sure that Google, for a price, allows this information to be mined… but right now, they seem to be the only people doing the mining.

You may also have spotted the dramatic falling-off from view numbers at the top, and numbers at the bottom. This isn't particularly surprising. I saw exactly the same pattern when I examined the real sales numbers from the infamous weekly Chart Return books of twenty years ago, when I was head of music at the old BRMB. We radio guys weren't really supposed to see that kind of documentation, but I managed to score the odd book or two, and the patterns in it were a revelation. It led to me adopting a rottweiler-like approach to the record industry’s cries of joy at an artist surging into the charts at, say, 28 - which meant, in reality, sales figures in the low hundreds at best across the entire coverage area of my old station. The record companies didn't like that at all, but I wasn't working for them, I was working for my radio station.

So are there, given the slapdash methodology, conclusions to be drawn? Sure there are.

  • Bhangra: never went away – but I’d love to know the UK proportion of Malkit Singh’s views. And yes, he is local - from Birmingham - for those who've never heard of him. .
  • Metal still lives. Look at the numbers for Oceans Ate Alaska. These boys have yet to record an album. But they have a major US agency deal already. And, again, I’d love to know the UK proportions.
  • You can go a long long way with appealing or niche music, savvy marketing, and seriously regular live gigging. Call it the Mumford and Sons effect. Best exponents right now seem to be Electric Swing Circus.
  • You can use Facebook right to boost your views; a lot of people do. Some are on this list. You’ll have to work out who.
  • The really interesting areas are just below the eye-popping totals, where acts are moving up fast under their own steam, but are still essentially known only in their hometowns, and possibly where they've gigged a lot, before there can be even a hint of, er. 'systematic' intervention.
  • I’d absolutely love a web-scraping search tool that lets you specify act location, viewer location and time span - you'd be able to drill down a lot more. 
Finally… I’ve done my best to be comprehensive. But I may just have missed an act or three out. If so, I humbly and abjectly apologise. Please, message me directly via the comments link on this page with your reproachful correction, and I’ll adjust the chart if it’s called for.

See? Even this chart can be manipulated. Meet the new charts – same as the old charts... 

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