I consider myself late to the YouTube game and all its quirks. I also consider myself a self-made genius for figuring out how to post HD videos and that is saying a lot. I currently maintain two different channels, one for personal and home videos and the other is for everyday use, freelance videos or just randomness. I have also found iMovie to be the easiest out of the box tool for editing and posting videos if you are a mac user. Never really found myself worried about how all the behind the scenes of YouTube worked but I did find a great post on how YouTube counts your video views by Atlanta Analytics.
YouTube Video View Count
YouTube counts videos as they are started. In as little as 5 seconds (i.e., if you only watch the first 5 seconds of a video), your video count is incremented. It could be less. I tested 5 and it worked. That’s enough for me. This is for watching videos ON YouTube.
Also from my research, I’ve come across a little hitch in the incrementing logic that says somewhere around 300 views (some people say at 301 views), YouTube freezes your view count while it starts sniffing around for view fraud. Obviously, since video view count is such a huge part of the ranking algorithm on YouTube, they are sensitive to people inflating their views. This can happen in a number of ways, but they basically want to comb through cookies and IP addresses to make sure that the video views up to and past this point are valid. I guess it’s possible 301 is some sort of a point of inflection that determines whether a video is actually popular, according to their math.
What about embedded videos?
This is where it starts getting a little wonky. From what I’ve been able to find (there isn’t much official documentation on this in their help section, unless I’m a dummy, which is possible), YouTube will increment the view count if you embed their own player and do NOT have autoplay enabled. So, what about the API, if you create your own player? It sounds like the view count on youtube.com will not be incremented if you choose to use your own (or a widget) player. I’ll have to do some testing to validate this, but it makes sense since you have a lot of control over video behavior in your own player and could just run video views to the moon.
If you have your player set to autoplay, this is also a case where video views will NOT be incremented. The reason for this is pretty obvious. People used to post their videos all over blogs, myspace and wherever else they could to get as many views as possible. If the video begins playing on page load, rather than via user input, the more page views you get, the more plays you get, irrespective of whether people actually wanted to watch your cat jump into a wall. And this unfairly played to the advantage of major sites and media outlets, where it was easy for them to generate tens of thousands of page views in a day or a week.
Remember, who cares how many people have seen your YouTube video. The fun part is making and sharing videos not counting them. If your lucky enough for your video to go viral, enjoy your 15 minutes of internet fame.