by and for citizen investigative journalists

RT, Information War, and Billions of Views: Where do the numbers come from?

January 11, 2017

By noodleremovernews

In September 2015, Alexey Kovalev of Noodle Remover wrote an article in Russian regarding the popularity of RT, in response to a Daily Beast article and the subsequent reaction of RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. In light of the recent United States Intelligence Community report on Russian influence regarding the 2016 presidential election, we have translated a section of this article and updated it with current figures. Translation and updated sections by Aric Toler, in consultation with the author.

RT and Simonyan herself really like to juggle their relative numbers (“the popularity of RT in Hong Kong and Taiwan is growing faster that of Fox News”) and statements such as “overtaking the online presence of major international news organizations, such as Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, Euronews, France 24, and Japanese NHK.

“Online presence” — this is generally Simonyan’s fetish. Her favorite number is how many billions of views RT gets on YouTube. The first billion (“the first news channel that reached the one billion mark!”) was recognized practically with fireworks, along with national news headlines. In just one of her LiveJournal posts, Simonyan makes the point no fewer than four times that:

Television station №1 on YouTube has more than 2.5 billion views

On RT’s header image on YouTube, they write that they are the “Most Watched News Network on YouTube — Over 4 billion views.” But since when are YouTube view figures an indicator of success for a television channel? RT is the only channel in the world that says that this sort of popularity says so. No one else does, and you want to know why? Because of this:

I’m not saying that RT is cranking up their number of views like this. Moreover, I’m not even sure that they need to do this. But YouTube views are an extremely unreliable metric, as they are easily manipulated. And it’s all for this figure of “more than 2.5 billion views,” now over 4 billion. You know who else has “more than 2.5 billion views?”

2,732,307,064 views (and even more, by the time you read this) for a video clip that cost a few tens of thousands of dollars, which brought and continues to bring its creator millions. It has gotten international media attention, and led to a boom of popularity for contemporary South Korean culture. And their government didn’t spend a single South Korean Won on it.

Well alright, let’s assume that all of these billions of views that RT has gathered are from actual, living people, and not Philippine bots. But what are these people watching billions of times? Here are the most popular videos on the RT YouTube channel:

This is the first page of the most popular video clips, which total somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 million views. Hmm, okay: a homeless guy with a phenomenal voice, earthquakes, tsunamis, a whale crushing a yacht. For the most part, RT did not film these videos — they are recordings from phones, surveillance cameras, or clips from other channels that RT slapped their logo onto.

And now the main question: what does all of this have to do with the stated mission of RT, “to communicate the Russian point of view to foreign audiences”? This mission is announced both on the channel’s website and in numerous interviews with its editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan. How does a cell phone clip of a homeless guy who could become a television announcer “communicate the Russian point of view to foreign audiences”? Of the top fifty most popular videos on RT’s YouTube channel — I remind you, that for the channel’s editor-in-chief, this YouTube channel is the main source of pride for her work — the viewer can conclude that somewhere in the far reaches of this terrible world, other than tsunamis and earthquakes, there is a country called Russia where meteorites and planes regularly crash, and the president of this country, Vladimir Putin, is singing “Blueberry Hill.” From the fifty most popular clips on RT’s YouTube channel — this is about a half-billion views — there is exactly one that fully meets the criteria of communicating the “Russian point of view to a foreign audience.” This clip is a news broadcast about an official visit of then-Prime Minister Putin to Denmark.

Well alright, let’s say that we concede the point that RT is the most successful television channel on the internet. It has a website that is many times more popular than Al Jazeera: over 100 million monthly visitors, compared to a bit under 20 million. But, here’s the thing:

More than anywhere, RT.com — and I remind you, the site of the television channel whose main task is to communicate the Russian point of view to a foreign audience — is popular in… Russia itself. Simonyan and other supports of giving RT more money from the state budget loves to talk about how an information war is being waged against Russia, and RT is a weapon in this war, therefore you cannot skimp on funding it. Then, it turns out that we are paying our enemies for this weapon in their currencies (renting RT offices abroad, paying American providers for carrying the RT signal, and so on), and then we load this “weapon” up with wooden bullets and we shoot at ourself. And after all of that, should it be all that surprising that a Pew Research survey (Simonyan loves to cite their surveys when the results suit her) found that, despite the supposed massive popularity and effectiveness of RT, the popularity of Russia across the world has reached an all-time low?

noodleremovernews

40 Comments

  1. just asking

    “RT did not film these videos — they are recordings from phones, surveillance cameras, or clips from other channels that RT slapped their logo onto” Is that legal

    Reply
    • Edward Lobb

      I have had no success in registering for the comments thread attached to articles. I would like to achieve that goal along with a “handle” instead of real name, as do so many others. Many people seem to think their comments are deleted by RT, when actually they have had an unsuccessful sign-up, as what happens in my attempts. Thank you, and I hope to accomplish this ASAP.
      Edward

      Reply
  2. stranger

    Ridiculous article. They are not able to find any compromat to RT but still trying their best to blame.

    Reply
    • Aric Toler

      Stranger, the main theme of this article goes counter to the narrative painted by the US IC report on RT’s influence, so I’m not sure who you are addressing with “they”.

      Reply
      • stranger

        ‘They’ – are Alexey Kovalev and you who reprinted his article. What is the point? Simonyan responds to the accusations of Daily Beast with numbers and refs. Kovalev tries to debunk Simonyan somehow, but actually provides nothing material and summaries with a self inconsistent conclusion. What did he try to prove, that RT is not as popular as they say? Is it a crime? He didn’t debunk any of Simonyan’s official numbers and ratings. Just about nothing,

        Reply
      • Arya Stark

        This is so retarded. Of course the all time most popular clips on RT’s Youtube are more likely to be about cats than politics.

        Is this Mr ‘noodle remover’s’ first time on the internet?

        Reply
      • stranger

        After all, ALL US intelligence services admitted that RT is dangerous by dedicating RT HALF of the report on Russian HACKERS. By that they acknowledged it’s popularity and made the greatest advertisement. Everybody believes US intelligence, don’t they? Did you mean US intelligence agencies could lie? OMG

        Reply
        • oui oui

          a constated influence will not prove true a fake number of views while faking this number can say the influence bad , an other useless idiocy of yours , it’s called a sophism , or a crap
          you have a god ?

          Reply
      • stranger

        By the “self inconsistent conclusion” (which is an incorrect definition) I mean what Alexey Kovalev says in the conclusion of his this article:

        “I don’t think Margarita Simonyan is some fiend, at the same time neither its television station is a complete failure, nor the monstrous propaganda mouthpiece. No, it’s got plenty of grateful viewers, the channel receives international awards and the same editors and producers work there, as well as everywhere, making the content which has nothing to do with politics. And in some form something such as the RT channel, of course, is necessary. Yes, really, I myself spoke on RT, fortunately I had only two floors on the elevator ride. I just do not like when I am hung noodles on the ears (being deceived or manipulated), that’s all.”

        Overall he thinks RT is a good channel and he spoke on RT himself. He just thinks he is being ‘hung noodles’, but doesn’t justify it enough imho.

        Reply
  3. stranger

    As for Pew Research survey… a couple months ago, all surveys painted Clinton’s advantage, all exit polls, all analysts predicted her victory. To the great surprise of everybody, everything appeared false

    Reply
    • stranger

      I assumed, the analysts were aware of the specifics of the US election system which is supposed to compensate the weight of small states.

      Reply
  4. Arya Stark

    Here’s a quote from this Alexey Kovalev.

    This is why I don’t like Margarita Simonyan. It was not because she fired me; as I mentioned in the beginning I was actually grateful to her for that. It is because she is a pathologically lying, dishonest, and duplicitous person who is a disgrace to the profession of journalism and who is destroying the once-great reputation of the best news organization for which I was proud to work.

    Yah sounds like a well balanced guy who doesn’t bear a grudge or anything.

    Reply
    • Corporal

      If you dare to read the whole article, which you just quoted, then you understand that he is right. You can double check his claims from public sources.

      Reply
  5. Mark

    I wonder if purchasing site website visits explains what seems to me blatant distortion/manipulation of news search results on news.google.com. Here’s an example:

    For several months, searching for “MH17” on news.google.com brought up a Centre for Research on Globalization article–as if there were no reports more recent or more credible–on news.google.com. I would have to go back and check, but this was October through December, I believe.

    Currently MH17 on news.google.com is dominated by Russian news outlet stories. Has Google ever seriously addressed such manipulation?

    Reply
    • Mark

      Within hours of me posting the above comment about Centre for Research on Globalization & news.google.com search results on MH17, guess what? The Centre for Research on Globalization is once again at the top of the results!

      Reply
      • stranger

        Nobody else writes on MH17 and wants to forget, that’s why – no articles? BTW, when Dutches (JIT) promised to complete the investigation? There will be 3 years soon…

        Reply
        • Arya Stark

          Never. The point is to ‘investigate’ and make accusations without having to prove them in court.

          Reply
          • stranger

            That is a new modern fashion – to accuse and apply punitive measures and don’t bother themselves with evidences nor proves. A new word in jurisprudence, practiced by the most developed worlds countries. I thought Dutch promised some date. Seriously, whatever Russia is. 🙁

      • Mark

        Also near the top is a Jan 11 report on rabble.ca

        “This latest incident in the MH17 saga is relevant to the recent American elections. Donald Trump is being accused of outright treason by the…”

        Interesting that Canadian audiences are being targeted, or that Canadian “news” outlets are being used to spew out this stuff. Why Canada?

        Happy to see Stranger & Arya Stark chiming in.

        Clearly MH17 has not been forgotten by those seeking to confuse public thinking about it.

        Reply
  6. stranger

    Alexey Kovalev is not very objective. He gives the first page of the sorted by Most Popular videos. There are more entertaining videos there, but just from the second-third page – politics and news appear and then prevail. If one sorts by Upload Date, there are just few entertaining videos per page if any. No wonder people watch more entertaining videos by coming from search engines or from RT. The high views of those videos don’t necessarily give a substantial outcome in total, since there are much less such videos. Other Alexey’s articles are similarly biased.

    Reply
    • stranger

      Tell that to CIA, FBI, NIA who dedicated to RT and personally Simonyan more than a half of the report on the ‘Russian Global threat’, and all US congress who seriously discussed that trying to agree the harshest so far anti Russian sanctions.
      Amazing, firstly they call Russia an insignificant, poor and weak country – then seriously and soberly claim Russia managed to control US elections and is dangerous in the informational space! No any public proves as always, but the deal is done – sanctions are approved by the congress, so that Trump will have troubles removing them. While they are in power Obama and Dems are rushing to leave as much poisoned gifts for the new admin…
      Btw where were all those intelligence agencies during the elections themselves? FBI as we remember discussed to pursue Clinton on the leaked material instead of looking for Russian hackers.

      Reply
  7. Dude

    “to communicate the Russian point of view to foreign audiences”

    heheh. This is cute… “Russian point of view”
    Normal civilized countries have many different points of views, but
    of course there only one point of view in rushka, namely the one of Pootler.

    I watched RT couple of times.. Outrageous! North Korea Television! I doubt that any sane person in civilized countries would actually watch that bullshit..
    Conspiracy theorists, UFO hunters, kookoos of all sorts – thats’ probably a typical audience for RT..

    Reply
  8. Dude

    https://similarweb.com/website/rt.com#overview
    —-

    hahaha!
    rt.com bounce rate is 65%! (i.e. only one page view per visit)

    So it looks like the whole statistics is totally made up by bots!?
    RT are even lazy to make the bots that would visit more than one page,
    to make their fake “visitors statistics” more believable!

    pants on fire!

    Reply

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