The most-viewed YouTube videos

Earlier this week, Google announced that Psy’s insanely viral YouTube music video, Gangnam Style, officially broke the 2,147,483,647 view barrier. What’s significant about that number, you ask? That’s the largest number that can be encoded by a 32-bit integer number. The folks at Google never suspected a video would exceed 2 billion views until Gangnam Style came along, essentially meaning that Gangnam Style is single-handedly responsible for forcing the Google team to upgrade YouTube’s view counter to a 64-bit integer encoding.

Considering the last time I watched Gangnam Style it was still in the measly 200 million view range, I was pretty shocked when I heard that it had recently broken 2 billion views. To put Gangnam Style’s view count in perspective, I charted the top 30 most-watched YouTube videos of all time from Wikipedia:


An estimated 3 billion people around the world — roughly 40% of the world’s population — will be connected to the internet by the end of 2014. Gangnam Style has almost as many views as the number of people who have access to the internet, worldwide, and it’s still growing.

As a further testament to Psy’s YouTube dominance, 2 of the top 10 — and 3 of the top 30 — most-viewed YouTube videos were made by Psy. The only artist to even come close to Psy is Katy Perry, but her three top 30 video view counts don’t even add up to more than Gangnam Style’s alone.

Of course, the list above slightly favors older YouTube videos like Charlie bit my finger that were posted almost a decade ago. To give a better idea of the momentum that these videos have, I sorted the top 30 videos by the average number of views they received per day since the day they were posted.


From this perspective, the view count race is far more competitive. Katy Perry’s Dark Horse and Enrique Iglesias’ Bailando — both posted in early 2014 — have managed to maintain the same “view count momentum” as Gangnam Style. Meanwhile, we see that oldies like “Charlie bit my finger” are really just resting on their laurels and will likely fall into YouTube obscurity by next year.

As YouTube continues to grow, it will become increasingly common to see view counts in the billions. But Gangnam Style still holds the bragging rights for being the first to “break” YouTube.

Update (December 7, 2014): Daniel Hadley did a great follow-up to this post looking at the most popular non-music videos on YouTube.

Dr. Randy Olson is the Chief Data Scientist at FOXO Bioscience, where he is bringing advanced data science and machine learning technology to the life insurance industry.

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28 comments on “The most-viewed YouTube videos
  1. @mouldgod says:

    Seeing as youtube’s total viewership has grown over the years, it might make sense to average the fractions of total youtube views that each video was responsible for during each month of it being available. This would normalise both for each video’s length of time available as well as for each video’s potential viewership limit over the course of time.

    No idea if that data is obtainable though. πŸ˜›

  2. veronicablood says:

    so, does this list prove that American culture dominates the planet, or is this just a list for Americans, english speakers, or what? I mean, where’s the Bollywood soundtrack videos? Or Faye Wong?

    • Randy Olson says:

      There’s a fair number of foreign videos on there. All of Psy’s videos are technically from South Korea and in Korean. Shakira, Don Omar, Michel Telo, and Enrique Iglesias’ videos are all from South America and in Spanish.

    • somewhatparanoid says:

      In addition to what the author said, many Asian countries have their own video and music sharing services (e.g. NicoNico in Japan) so this is far from a comprehensive list of most popular music. Bollywood soundtracks and Faye Wong are also not as popular world-wide as some of the items on the list above. I’m pretty sure that there is no “cultural imperialism” going on here πŸ™‚

      • Roberto says:

        However Youtube tailors those “most viewed” and whatever lists to the viewer based on geolocation, OS language and browser language. I know it well: I’m a Spaniard located in the Czech Republic and at work I have an UK proxy.

        For example, this:

        Fifth Harmony – All I Want for Christmas is You.
        Published 2014-12-03 (ISO date format to avoid confusion). 1 174 066 views at the time of writing this, that makes an average of 293516,5 views per day. Not in that December 2014 list, though.

  3. Nice analysis. Great job Randal.

  4. Zhong David says:

    Haha I’m in programming I right now, and I happen to understand why 64-bit is necessary after Gangnam Style had broken the record!

  5. Rei says:

    2 Eminem songs on top 30 videos πŸ˜€ this is great. I just wish it was better songs.

  6. Krish Damany says:

    i feel like music should be counted separately.

  7. I’m actually proud of the fact that I’ve only seen perhaps 2 or 3 of those videos.

  8. Commenterio says:

    Only 1 which isn’t a music video? So much for the “You” in YouTube.

  9. Jake Lakota says:

    And how much do they earn from this?

  10. Blake Smith says:

    Shame on google for not using the proper data types. If there’s no possibility of negative numbers (and if the language supports it) you should use an unsigned type. That way you’re implicitly encoding your expectations about that variable’s behaviour and saving space to boot.

  11. David Wilson says:

    It should be renamed “ThemTube” because it’s pretty clear this has primarily become just another tool for entertainment dissemination by corporations, no different than Tv networks and cable.

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