YouTube as a Draw for News Viewers

By Chris Ariens 

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A 15-month study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism has found news is a major reason why people “tune in” to YouTube.

From January 2011 to March 2012, roughly a third of the most searched terms each month on YouTube were news related. This came at a time of some major world news events — visually driven stories — including the Japan earthquake and tsunami and the Arab Spring. A majority of YouTube traffic, 70%, is from outside the U.S. Still, while the top 20 tsunami videos were viewed 96 million times worldwide the week of the disaster, the PEJ figures more people watched on local and national television around the globe. In fact, the three evening newscasts drew 25 million viewers each night the week of the tsunami.

Of the most watched news videos on YouTube, more than a third (39%) were produced by citizens who found themselves witnesses to breaking news. 51% were produced by news organizations. Some of the professional news videos contained user generated footage.

“News has found a place on this video-sharing platform and in ways that are opening up the flow of information and forging new areas of cooperation and dialogue between citizens and news outlets,” said PEJ Deputy Director Amy Mitchell.

The length is another differentiator between newscasts and YouTube clips. On YouTube, the median length of the most popular news videos was 2 minutes and 1 second, which is longer than the median length of a package on local TV news (41 seconds) but shorter than the median length on the network evening newscasts (2 minutes and 23 seconds).

Other findings:

  • The Japanese earthquake and tsunami was No. 1 accounting for 5% of all the 260 most-watched videos, followed by elections in Russia (5%) and unrest in the Middle East (4%).
  • More than half the most-viewed videos, 58%, involved footage that had been edited while a sizable percentage, 42%, was raw footage.
  • Personalities are not a main driver of the top news videos. President Barack Obama was the most popular figure, featured in 4% of the top videos worldwide, ranging from speeches posted in their entirety to satirical ads produced by his political opponents.