Study: 26% of Adults in the US Get News on YouTube

Pew Research Center found that 44% of the channels it analyzed were personality-driven

49% of the YouTube channels Pew studied were affiliated with news organizations, while 42% were not samsonovs/iStock
Headshot of David Cohen

Pew Research Center Monday shared a study on U.S. adults who turn to YouTube for news and the channels they are turning to on the Google-owned website.

The think tank surveyed 12,638 U.S. adults from Jan. 6 through 20, as well as conducting an analysis of the 377 most popular YouTube news channels as of last November and the contents of videos published by the 100 channels with the highest median number of views last December.

Pew said in a statement introducing its study, “About one-quarter of all U.S. adults (26%) say they get news on YouTube, the massive, Google-owned video-sharing website. A major new Pew Research Center study examines the news landscape on YouTube, finding an ecosystem in which established news organizations and independent news creators thrive side by side—and, consequently, one where established news organizations no longer have full control over the news Americans watch.”

The think tank found that the same percentage of respondents (23%) get news from YouTube channels affiliated with external news organizations and from independent channels (those without clear external affiliations), adding that 49% of the channels it studied were affiliated with news organizations, while 42% were not.

Pew Research Center

Among respondents who said they get news from YouTube, 59% said it was an important way for them to consumer news, and 13% called it the most important, with most not seeing any issues in turning to the video site for news.

Pew wrote, “While no more than three in 10 YouTube news consumers said any of the issues asked about were ‘very big’ problems, majorities say a few of these are ‘moderately big’ problems—including misinformation, political bias, YouTube limiting advertising revenue for video creators (also known as demonetization) and censorship by the platform.”

The think tank also found that 44% of the news channels it studied were classified as personality-driven, meaning that they were oriented around an individual (journalist or independent host). This was especially true for independent channels (70%).

Pew said the people at the center of these channels were often YouTubers—people who gained a following through their YouTube channels—at 57%, compared with just 13% who were public figures before gaining attention on the Google-owned video site.

Other findings included:

  • 66% of respondents said the news videos they watch on YouTube help them better understand current events, while 73% expect those videos to be largely accurate. Meanwhile, 68% said the videos keep their attention and they watch them closely, rather than playing them in the background.
  • Respondents were nearly as likely to say they were looking for opinions and commentary on YouTube (51%) as they were to indicate that they were seeking information and facts (48%). When asked what makes YouTube a unique place to get news, Pew said, “the most common responses relate to the content itself—including access to news sources outside the mainstream and the plethora of different opinions and views that are available on the platform.”
  • Republicans and independents who lean Republican were more likely than Democrats and Democrat leaners to say censorship, demonetization and political bias were very big problems on YouTube, while the reverse was true for misinformation and harassment.
  • Videos about conspiracy theories were almost entirely concentrated among independent channels and virtually absent from videos produced by news organization channels. Pew said its analysis of almost 3,000 videos posted by the 100 most-viewed YouTube channels last December found that 21% of videos from independent channels mentioned at least one of the conspiracy theories that were studied, while that was true for just 2% of those from news organizations.
  • QAnon was the most commonly mentioned topic among conspiracy theories, accounting for 14% of the videos analyzed from independent channels and 2% of those from channels from news organizations.
  • Videos about the administration of President Donald Trump made up the largest share of those analyzed last December, with 36% about his impeachment and 31% covering domestic issues such as gun control, abortion and immigration. Meanwhile, the 2020 presidential election was the topic of just 12% of those videos. Videos about the impeachment or the administration in general averaged roughly 250,000 views, versus about 122,000 for those on other topics. And videos where Trump was the most common focus accounted for 24% of the total and averaged some 221,000 views, compared with around 157,000 for those with a different focus.
  • Only 12% of the news channels studied by Pew explicitly included language about their political ideology in their descriptions, with 8% identifying as right-leaning and 4% as left-leaning.
  • Independent channels were more likely to describe themselves in partisan terms than those affiliated with news organizations.
  • Compared with overall U.S. adults, those who consumer news on YouTube were more likely to be young and male and less likely to be white. A total of 34% of YouTube news consumers were under 30, versus 21% of U.S. adults overall, and 71% were under 50, compared with 55%. 58% of YouTube news consumers were male, versus 48% of all U.S. adults surveyed, while YouTube news consumers were more racially diverse: white (50%, compared with 63% of U.S. adults), Black (14% and 12%, respectively) and Hispanic (25% and 16%). David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.