What is YouTube watch time

What does playback time mean on YouTube

Watch time is the most important metric on YouTube. For you that means: Don't be afraid of the YouTube algorithm. YouTube has invested a lot of energy and love into the technology that displays and suggests videos for you. The result is impressive.

The important things first.

Playback time or watch time, if you have set your browser to English, does NOT mean minutes seen!

Playback time is a combination of the following criteria

  • Calls
  • Playback time
  • Beginning of meetings
  • Upload frequency
  • session duration
  • End of meetings

Basically, all of these criteria play a role in how well and often your channel and its videos encourage people to start a session on YouTube and stay on the platform for a longer period of time.

In order for your content to gain any form of value in the algorithm, your channel and videos must first receive views.

But that's not all. Since views can be influenced by misleading thumbnails and titles, YouTube programmers and creators have refined the algorithm over the last decade.

Due to the constant further development, it is difficult to make a precise statement about how exactly the algorithm works. From numerous conversations with YouTube, Google and our partners at MCNs (Multi Channel Network) we know:

By far the most important factor is playback time.

This is also evident in the fact that YouTube has placed it in the background in the analytics calls.

To understand what playback time is exactly, we need to distinguish between two types:

  • Video playback time
  • Session playback time

The playback time of a single video is simply calculated:

Video playback time = Views x Average playback time

For the algorithm, however, what counts most is the session duration, and this cannot be measured using the Creator Studio and Analytics.

The four hidden playback time metrics

There are 4 other metrics beyond views and average playback time that have an impact on playback time.

Here you are:

  • Session start: how many individual YouTube sessions are triggered by your video.
  • session duration: all the time someone spends watching videos on YouTube as a platform (not just your videos and channel) and how that relates to your videos.
  • End of session: how many YouTube sessions are ended during or after one of your videos (i.e. when viewers leave YouTube).
  • Upload frequency: how often do you upload videos to YouTube.

There are few official statements on the subject.

However, there are some indications. In this guide from YouTube with tips on how to optimize playback time, it says:

The algorithm on which the video recommendations are based prioritizes videos that lead to an overall longer session duration over those that get more clicks.

And YouTube also gives an insight into what is not recommended in the eye of the algorithm:

[...] avoid redirecting users to other websites.

YouTube also makes reference to the relevance of playback time in the Creator Playbook.

[…] YouTube optimizes search and discovery for videos that increase watch-time on the site.

Translated: YouTube optimizes search results and findability of videos, which increases the viewing time on the page.
The meaning of the individual hidden metrics and how they can be derived, we will analyze further on the blog in the future.

If you have any questions about this topic or other YouTube basics, we'd love to hear from you!