A Data-Driven Look at the VMAs

For the last several days, the internet has been abuzz about the MTV Video Music Awards. Most of the attention has focused on Miley Cyrus’ on-stage antics, leaving some of us longing for a deeper analysis of the actual competition. If Grantland can dedicate 3,000 words to the 33-49 Portland Trail Blazers, don’t we deserve to know, empirically, if #thatPower by will.i.am and the Biebs had better choreography than that in the Pitbull and J-Lo collaboration Live It Up? Is that really too much too ask?

Apparently it is. So I scraped together some numbers from the ultimate music video data source - YouTube, duh - and did it myself. And did a bit of analysis on Miley too.

People Like Music Videos #

Maybe it’s the celebrities, maybe it’s the circus, and maybe, just maybe, it’s the music, but people like the VMAs. This year’s two-hour show drew an estimated 10.1 million viewers. Assuming they only stuck around for half the show, viewers spent a combined total of 1,150 years watching today’s stars perform. At first glance, that sounds like a lot - until you consider how much time people spend watching the videos up for awards.

Though YouTube doesn’t make average video view durations available through its API, it does show this data under most videos’ stats tab. A quick glance at this suggests that these averages typically fall between 60% to 80% of the video length. Combining this with view counts and lengths of the 53 videos under consideration at the VMAs, YouTubers likely spent between 17,000 and 23,000 YEARS watching this year’s candidates.

Macklemore owes us 4,000 years back

We Can’t Stop Ourselves - The Obligatory Miley Cyrus Section #

While people definitely like YouTube videos, do they like Miley Cyrus’? The 20-year old’s, um, “creative” performance inspired such accolades as raunchy, unacceptable, and really, really, bad (and an endless supply of BuzzFeed lists). So the performance didn’t land, but did the music video?

Unfortunately for Miley, it looks like it didn’t. Though the average daily views of her hit, We Can’t Stop, are the second highest of all the nominees (just behind One Direction’s humbly-titled Best Song Ever), Miley may have been popular for the wrong reasons. Her video’s average rating is far below that of all the other nominees. While every other video was liked by at least 80% of those who rated it - and the average video was liked by 95% - We Can’t Stop barely broke even, only receiving favorable reviews 52% of the time.

Which one is “We Can’t Stop”?

Of course, that could be unfair - part of the point of her video was to be shocking. Maybe Miley knew “on-stage pornography” was too far for some people. But tough, it’s her party, her hands are in the air, she don’t care, but she bets somebody here might get some now.

If that was the plan, fewer people want to be dancing with Miley than Miley thought. Cyrus got one thumbs-up for every 195 views, well below the average of one per 155 views, and 39th out of 53 overall. And that’s on top of an impressive thumbs-down rate of one out of every 215 views, 13 times the average rate and 3 times the next worst. Miley may have been going for polarizing, but she ended up just going south.

likes and dislikes
Which one is “We Can’t Stop”? (part 2)

What About The Winners? #

Given the apparent distaste for We Can’t Stop on YouTube, it’s no surprise that Cyrus came away from the VMAs empty-handed. But were other artists robbed?

Not by the people. If Yahoo!Answers is to be believed, ten VMAs are chosen by fan votes. Scoring videos by the percent of views that resulted in a like, the winners of all but two of these ten awards were one of the top two most-liked in their category. Furthermore, for one of these “misjudged” categories - “Video with a Social Message” - this metric may not necessarily be appropriate, given these videos’ controversial nature. Justin Timberlake, however, looks to have been flat-out robbed of the “Best Male Video”. [Editor’s note: The author agrees.]

The other six awards, however, are decided by a panel of judges. And here, MTV may have hired its own Marie-Reine Le Gougne. Among these six categories, three - “Best Cinematography”, “Best Direction”, and “Best Visual Effects” - selected winners outside of the top two most-liked. C'est intéressant…

At least the fans got it mostly right

This raises a final question: were the nominees, which were also selected by MTV, the right ones?

For the “Video of the Year” at least, that seems to depend on the criteria. If you rank videos by the percent of views resulting in a like, the five candidates were all in the bottom 20 of all nominees. But that could be because they were getting so many views. If you rank by daily views, the same five videos are all in the top 17. A metric that combines both popularity and positivity - likes per day - suggests that the judges did a decent job of selecting nominees, which are again all in the top 17.

daily likes
Maybe they named that song correctly after all 

Because One Direction was unfairly left unconsidered for “Song of the Year” despite winning the YouTube “vote,” I feel it’s only right to give them the last word on how the VMAs went. To which they say, in their “Song of the Summer” winner Best Song Ever:

I think it went oh, oh, oh

I think it went yeah, yeah, yeah

I think it goes….

Want to Add Something? #

I believe in sharing data, showing work, and letting everyone quickly build on others’ analysis. If you think any of this data is interesting - or think something should be looked at in a different way - feel free to extract your own YouTube data using this (poorly-written) PHP code (you can run it in a Mac terminal), or play with the data I extracted in this Excel file.


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