YouTube is a massively popular online platform. Even if you knew that already, you may be surprised by just how popular it is.
The Pew Research Center conducted surveys and analyzed big datasets to find out who uses YouTube, what kind of content is most popular, and how the platform may be manipulating you. Here are 12 of the key results.
1. YouTube Is More Popular Than Facebook
In the U.S., for example, as of early 2019, 69% of adults were using Facebook. Nearly three-quarters, 73%, were using YouTube.
2. Tens of Thousands of YouTube Channels Have at Least a Quarter-Million Subscribers
The Pew researchers wanted to focus on the most popular YouTube channels, which they defined as channels with at least 250,000 subscribers. They then analyzed all activity on those channels during the first week of 2019. They found that tens of thousands made the cut: 43,770 channels had at least a quarter of a million subscribers.
3. Views Generated by YouTube Videos Number in the Billions
The videos posted by the most popular channels during the first week of 2019 generated more than 14 billion views. That was in just one week, and only counting the most popular channels.
4. Nearly a Quarter-Million Videos Were Posted in Just One Week on the Most Popular Channels
During the week when all videos from the most popular YouTube channels were analyzed, 243,254 videos were posted. That added up to more than 48,000 hours of video.
5. Use of YouTube Varies by Age
I was astonished when I learned about the massive popularity of YouTube. There was only one time in my life when I ever watched more than a random few minutes of YouTube now and then. That was when I was preparing my TEDx talk and wanted to study other speakers who had given talks relevant to mine or who had given remarkably popular talks. I wanted to learn from them, substantively, and also try to figure out what they were doing stylistically that made them so appealing.
I don’t like watching videos (or listening to audio) because I can’t control them the way I can control text. When I read, I can easily skim or skip passages of little interest.
One of the factors that probably helps to explain why I don’t watch much YouTube, when so many others do, is my age. I’m 66. Even though nearly three-quarters of people in the U.S. watch YouTube videos, across adults of all ages, the numbers are even higher for the youngest adults. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 9 out of 10 watch YouTube videos.
6. 70% of the Videos from Popular YouTube Channels Came from Just 10% of the Producers
Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? Also known as the Pareto Principle, it maintains that 80% of results will come from just 20% of the action. For example, according to an article at Forbes, 20% of sales reps generate 80% of total sales and 20% of software bugs cause 80% of software crashes.
Not all relevant findings conform exactly to the 80/20 ratio, but many phenomena exhibit imbalances that are similarly lopsided. YouTube views seem to be among them. Considering just the YouTube channels with at least a quarter-million subscribers, the Pew researchers found that 10% of those channels generated 70% of all the videos that were posted. They also found that the most popular videos – the top 10% — generated 79% of all views of new content.
7. On the Most Popular YouTube Channels, only 17% of the Videos Are in English
When I first started my graduate training in psychology, I learned that many of the contributions to the social sciences were in English. In other domains, too, English sometimes seems dominant. That’s not true, however, in the world of YouTube. Of the videos posted to the most popular YouTube channels, only 17% were completely in English.
8. Videos about Video Games Are Longer and More Popular Than Most of the Others
The topic of a YouTube video can be just about anything. Despite the seemingly infinite possibilities, about 18% of all English-language videos posted to the most popular channels were about one thing – gaming. Those videos about video games generated three times as many views as videos about other topics. They also lasted longer: a median of 13 minutes, compared to 5.2 minutes for the others.
9. Videos Featuring Children Draw More Than Their Share of Views
Videos featuring children under the age of 13 were viewed three times as often as other types of videos. That was true regardless of whether children were the target audience.
10. YouTube Users Do Not Believe Everything They See
Close to two-thirds of U.S. adults who use YouTube, 64%, report that they encounter videos that are obviously untrue at least occasionally.
11. In the U.S., Nearly 1 in 3 Adult YouTube Users Get News There
Even though most adult users of YouTube in the U.S. think they are running into blatantly false information at least some of the time, a substantial proportion of them, 28%, get news there. But many more, 52%, get news from Facebook.
12. YouTube Eggs You On
YouTube has an algorithm that generates suggestions for which videos viewers should watch next. The Pew researchers found that “YouTube recommends progressively longer videos — at least when it lacks information about the viewer needed for more personalized recommendations. After a chain of just four video recommendations, the algorithm was likely to suggest a video more than five minutes longer than the one it originally started on.”