Earlier this week, two of Latin music’s biggest stars clashed over YouTube accounting. Don Omar, a reggaeton veteran with a slew of hits in the 2000s, called in to the radio show Alofoke to suggest that some artists who claimed to be popular were actually just buying their views.
Ozuna, who was just awarded four Guinness World Record plaques for his YouTube success, called in to the same show the next day to hit back, saying Don Omar was “not in the best moment of his career to give opinions.” “Stop complaining,” Ozuna added, “and get to work.”
As detailed earlier this month in Rolling Stone, there is an entirely legal way of boosting views on YouTube through the use of Google advertising. Artists might spend up to $100,000 to have their video run as a short ad in front of other videos. If users click on an ad or even just watch it for a certain amount of time, a view is added to the artist’s count, even though users did not actually seek out the artist’s video.
On Friday, YouTube announced plans to change the way it treats any views that come via this type of advertising. “In an effort to provide more transparency to the industry,” the company wrote in a blog post, “… we are no longer counting paid advertising views on YouTube in the YouTube Music Charts calculation. Artists will now be ranked based on view counts from organic plays.”
However, the shift only extends to the charts and the reporting of 24-hour views records. Advertising money can still be spent to increase views, and the public view-counter on videos will still reflect views that were paid for.
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So it’s not surprising that critics of YouTube’s sanctioned view-boosting system believe the company’s new policy is little more than grandstanding. “There’s absolutely no difference,” says one Latin label source when asked about YouTube’s rule change. “At the end of the day, YouTube might not recognize [the view count], but the artist is still going to go to the public like, ‘Hey, look at this!’ It’s the same thing.”
YouTube is torn between two impulses. On the one hand, if millions of views can be purchased, the integrity of YouTube metrics can be called into question. “Our goal is to ensure YouTube remains a place where all artists are accurately recognized and celebrated for achieving success and milestones,” the company wrote.
But at the same time, the type of Google advertising that another source called “the legit way of juicing [YouTube] streams” is a reliable money-maker for the platform. It’s also widely used outside of pop music. As a result, YouTube’s policy change waves in the direction of the problem without actually addressing its root cause.
YouTube’s pay-for-views policy came under increased scrutiny in July, when Indian rapper Badshah earned 75 million views on a new video in 24 hours, ostensibly breaking a record. But the rapper had spent heavily to inflate his views, a fact he admitted freely on Instagram, and YouTube declined to acknowledge his accomplishment. Under the company’s new rules, the YouTube record-book would officially bar Badshah.
However, those views would still appear in Badshah’s public tally, providing a false signal of commercial vitality that the rapper could use in his marketing campaigns. As one Latin label employee put it earlier this month, “10 million views in the first 24 hours, 20 million views in the first 24 hours! Bro — it’s not real.”
These false signals have become a concern for several members of the Latin music industry, which relies heavily on YouTube to reach listeners. Sources say artists and labels spend liberally in the first 24 hours following a video’s release to boost its numbers. This has fundamentally distorted the landscape for rising acts — or anyone without a six-figure promotion budget. Everyone’s competing for attention, but “how can you go against a major [label] putting down $50,000 for a campaign in YouTube?” one source asked. “Can an up-and-coming artist do that? No fucking way.”
Not everyone in the industry is upset about this. On Monday, Raphy Pina — whose Pina Records has released music from stars like Daddy Yankee and Nicky Jam, among others — suggested on Twitter that spending money on YouTube views was a no-brainer. “Now everyone has the format of digital streaming in which you can promote your product to get a wider reach,” he wrote, as translated by Remezcla. “It’s super basic. Invest, gentlemen.”
Ozuna echoed Pina’s comments when he called in to Alofoke. “When you want your product to cross barriers, you need to put in some marketing,” he said.
Even critics of YouTube’s sanctioned view-buying will acknowledge its effectiveness as a promotional strategy. “It is a useful tool,” another source says. “But you can abuse it if you have a lot of money.” YouTube’s policy change does little to prevent potential abuse in the future.