The non-profit research group analyzed high-subscriber-count YouTube channels and new videos they posted during the first week of 2019 (Jan. 1-7). Pew tapped into YouTube’s API to generate a list of 43,770 channels with at least 250,000 subscribers for the study.
One of the more interesting findings: In English-language videos, certain keywords in the title were associated with much higher view counts relative to other videos. For example, videos mentioning “Fortnite,” “ASMR” (autonomous sensory meridian response), “prank” and “worst” received more than five times as many views as the median average of videos that didn’t include those words. Other keywords were more news-focused: The inclusion of “Trump” in video titles, for example, was associated with a significant lift in views among videos about U.S. current events and politics, according to Pew.
The overindexing keywords Pew identified were related to video games (“Fortnite,” “PUBG”), toys and children’s content (“slime,” “rainbow”), sports (“NFL,” “NBA”), and food (“eating”), while others represented popular video genres (“ASMR,” “makeup,” “prank”) and click-bait-style attempts to grab attention (“worst,” “ultimate,” “insane”).
Here’s the full list of the top 20 keywords from Pew’s study, ranked in order of their lift relative to median views for videos that didn’t use the terms: Fortnite, ASMR, slime, rainbow, prank, worst, NFL, makeup, moment, wrong, eating, PUBG, NBA, ultimate, hack, FIFA, player, mystery, insane, Roblox.
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Keep in mind that the study covers just a narrow slice in time — the first seven days of 2019. Pew looked at just one week of YouTube videos because over a longer period of time, the sheer volume would be impractical to analyze. For the study, the organization enlisted a team of researchers to manually categorize videos by topic and to determine whether they were in English.
Pew’s content analysis of English-language videos (37,079 videos in total) also found that those aimed at children were highly popular, regardless of their intended audience. In addition, videos featuring a child or children who appeared to be under the age of 13 received nearly three times as many views on average as other types of videos, according to the researchers.
Google’s policies explicitly prohibit children under 13 from signing up for a YouTube account. YouTube provides YouTube Kids, a separate platform with enhanced parental controls and curated video playlists, but Pew’s analysis focused on YouTube as a whole.
The relative popularity of videos featuring kids could be innocuous — several top YouTube channels are family-oriented vlogs, like Ryan ToysReview (whose star has a hit show on Nickelodeon). But YouTube also has had a problem with child predators on the platform. Earlier this year, a so-called pedophile ring was discovered to be using YouTube to leave coded sexual comments on videos with kids — prompting an advertiser backlash and leading YouTube to disable the ability to leave comments on nearly all videos with minors. YouTube has since announced additional steps to restrict the possibility that children will be targeted by predators, including banning young kids from live-streaming without adult supervision.
A YouTube spokesperson declined to comment on Pew Research Center’s survey. According to YouTube, in general, the most popular video categories on the service are comedy, music, sports and how-to videos. The rep added, “we have always been clear YouTube has never been for people under 13.”
Meanwhile, Pew’s study found that about 18% of English-language videos posted by popular channels during the study period related to video games or gaming. Content about video games was among the most popular genres of content as measured by total views during the study period, and the videos also tended to be much longer than videos in other categories.
All told, the 43,770 YouTube channels in the study produced a gargantuan amount of content: 243,254 videos over Jan. 1-7, totaling 48,486 hours of content. The average video posted by the channels during this period was about 12 minutes long and received 58,358 views during its first week on the site — together amassing over 14.2 billion views over the seven-day span. That’s all the more staggering considering that just 56% of the channels posted videos during the first week of 2019.
Pew’s study found that a small number of the most popular YouTube channels produced the most videos: 10% of the channels (about 4,400) produced 70% of all the videos tracked during the first week of 2019. Moreover, the top 10% most-viewed videos were responsible for 79% of all the views for new content posted by the channels during the week.
According to study, the majority of the active channels (72%) posted at least one video that was partially or completely in a language other than English. Overall, just 17% of the nearly quarter-million videos included in the analysis were fully in English.
Pew said it relied solely on YouTube’s API to collect the data and didn’t collaborate with the platform directly on the research. The full report, “A Week in the Life of Popular YouTube Channels,” is available at this link.