How Much YouTube Do Employees Really Watch at Work?

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J.C. Penney employees are reported to have watched five million YouTube videos from the office during the month of January.

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Reuters

The number of YouTube videos employees watch is not exactly the kind of number tracked by corporate analysts or released by companies. Suffice to say, on the evidence of being a human being in the white-collar workforce, I have long been sure that the number of YouTube videos watched on the clock is astronomical, belonging to the category of numbers so large that you should write them like this: 107

But it's hard to calculate. There are too many confounding variables. YouTube says it streams more than 4 billion videos per day, with about 40 percent coming from the US, so 1.6 billion American streams each day. Let's assume there are 300 million Americans who all watch exactly the same amount of videos each day. That'd be five per day per person in the United States. But how many come outside of work? How many come from the country's 55 million white-collar workers during the hours between 8 and 6pm? We just can't know. 

But, a factlet in a Wall Street Journal article on retailer J.C. Penney's struggles confirms that, under the right circumstances, desk jockeys can be extreme consumers of online video:

During January 2012, the 4,800 employees in Plano had watched five million YouTube videos during work hours, said Michael Kramer, a former Apple executive brought in by Mr. Johnson as chief operating officer.

As New York Times Magazine Hugo Lindgren noted on Twitter, that's 50 videos per person per day. J.C. Penney's Chief Operating Officer called the company's culture at the time "pathetic." But I wouldn't be surprised if the white-collar worker average was 10 videos a day or even more. Nine hours a day is a long time to stare at a screen and Aunt Laura keeps sending such funny clips!

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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