So here is the hot topic on the lips of everyone: how big is online video? Is it so trendy it is sitting at the cool kids table at lunch and having cute girls bring it pudding? Or is it the neglected nerd at the back of the cafeteria eating a bagged lunch all alone?

Measuring the success rate of online video is an increasing necessity for today’s marketers. Should dollars that are currently bracketed for virtual banner ads or television commercials be reassigned to the multipurpose web video format? If so, which website is currently making the biggest splash—Yahoo, Hulu, YouTube, AOL? Despite the clamor of investors, programmers, distributors and marketing specialists, no one has yet been able to conduct a conclusive, standardized study that proves exactly how popular online video has become, or how popular it’s expected to get.

One of the main reasons the task of measuring video views is so tricky is because every site has its own way of measuring video plays. Some trackers count plays per video unit (but don’t offer site-wide stats) and some merit partial plays of video (rather than only counting full plays from start to finish). Some sites only count one play per IP address, while others do not count embedded video content on third-party hosts. Even when a web video distributor or host guarantees advertisers a certain number of impressions, it’s hard to gauge when and if this quota is reached.

When it comes to measuring online video plays, the two main number crunchers are Nielsen and comScore. While their methods are similar (the random survey of web browsers’ video watching habits), variables remain–for example, Nielsen does not count paid distribution ad units, which may significantly alter video counts on certain sites. Between the two surveys last year, a shocking interval of approximately 7 billion views remained–enough of a difference that one service reported a 16.5% increase of online video viewership, while the other reported a 2.3% decrease

Many have suggested that the only reliable way to collect data would be a widespread, live assessment of usage on the largest video websites. However, the current expense of such an endeavor has kept survey companies at bay. Under certain conditions, comScore has expressed interest in the implementation of such an endeavor, while Nielsen has expressed that it would only be able to perform such an intricate study if the participatory sites were able to cover their respective surveillance costs.

One thing on which all analysts seem to agree is that video viewership is on the rise. The percentage of Americans partaking of online video is estimated somewhere between 70-80%, according to BusinessWeek.com. Top sites like YouTube and Hulu are consistently if not increasingly patronized—and this trend is predicted to remain steady.

For the time being, the most dependable way to market remains a cocktail of resources. Television ads are not to be quit quite yet, and web banner ads are not completely out of fashion. But it might behoove curious marketing companies to launch their own mini-study by putting video ads on the web to see how it impacts their overall project and connects with the masses. That is, if your target audience is the young, hip crowd, it might make a bigger splash if a campaign is launched via viral video, in forms such as midstream ad placement or in-video product placement. Then again, a recent study concluded that 99% of video viewing still occurs on a television screen. As if to underscore that point, internet phenomenon Hulu finally made its debut into the mainstream with—that’s right—a well-placed and well-timed Superbowl commercial.

So it seems that the online video ad craze should be taken with a grain of salt–but stay on top of the numbers. Don’t be afraid to verge into the world of internet video marketing, or conduct your own trials. Depending on your audience, timing and placement, video ads may do wonders for your upcoming campaign. After all, it is the next big thing. Probably.