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What content dominates on YouTube?

Rasty Turek

YouTube is the most popular video hosting platform on the internet. Billions of people watch billions of hours of content. Tens of millions of users upload content to it every year. These statistics are fairly well known and understood by the wider creator community.

YouTube however, doesn’t share many details about its platform and most best practices are based on anecdotal or past experiences.

Because YouTube is one of the platforms that we, at Pex, actively monitor, we have decided to share some never before published data to help creators across the globe understand this platform better.

Disclaimer on the data

In order to better understand the information shared below, you should know what Pex does. Pex is a search engine, not dissimilar from Google. We index selected platforms, extract audio and video content, fingerprint it and search through it. In addition, we collect and update all surrounding metadata on a regular basis. These include views, comments, likes, dislikes and any other useful information. We have no direct relationships with any of the platforms. We have no visibility into private and unlisted content, nor have we any information about the consumers of the content.

That said, we monitor all visible content on all of the supported platforms. We don’t estimate, extrapolate or in any way tamper with the data we extract from these platforms.

All the data in this article is based on performance of all publicly available videos as of Dec 31st, 2018.

By Dec 31st, 2018, YouTube had over…

  • 5.2 billion videos uploaded
  • 1 billion hours of content
  • 29 trillion views
  • 250 billion likes + dislikes
  • 33 billion comments
Hours of content uploaded every minute

One of YouTube’s favorite metrics to share is how much content is being uploaded. In March 2019, Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, publicly shared that more than 500 hours of content is being uploaded to YouTube every minute.

The actual number is even higher. Just within 2018 more than 621 of hours of content were uploaded every minute, or more than 10 hours of content every second.

* July 2010: Video length max increased from 10 to 15 minutes for all users | September 2011: Verified users can upload long-form videos

The length of videos is increasing, driven mostly by long form content, primarily gaming videos and live streaming.

Unique uploads within the year

Users uploaded more than 1.3 billion videos in 2018. As you can see from the graph above, the growth is slowing down.

Unique account that uploaded at least one video within the year

Once again, when we look at the number of users uploading content, the growth is slowing down. This is not caused by competition luring users away, but rather by the fact that YouTube has peaked within the connected population. Of the 4 billion people that now own a smartphone, 800 million are blocked from accessing YouTube in China and some large parts of the World still don’t have fast enough connections to consume video content.

This peak also explains why YouTube spends so many resources on keeping users more active within the platform.

Average uploads per unique account per year

And it’s working. You can see in the graph above that from 2010 and 2016 YouTube focused on a land grab, getting as many users to participate as it could get its hands on. For the last two years however, they are focusing on improving the engagement with their creators. On average, a user uploads 13 videos every year. Almost 3 times more than a decade ago.

All the above data is very generic to the platform itself. However, YouTube breaks content into categories. These categories are predefined by YouTube and selected by users at the upload time. People & blogs is the default category. That means that if a user doesn’t change the category, it will be automatically attributed to it. A full list of all categories can be found here.

Distribution of content by category

The graph above visualizes the distribution of newly uploaded content to the most popular categories. Gaming is by far the fastest growing. In fact, in absolute numbers, YouTube has orders of magnitude more gaming videos than Twitch. That doesn’t make them more popular by the viewers, nor does it makes them good revenue generators.

Break down of each category

In fact, if you look at the table above, you will see that Music, not Gaming, is the most profitable category. This is caused by multiple reasons. Gaming content is by far the longest, which requires YouTube to spend more money on hosting it. Music, on the other hand, is the shortest of all categories, but in turn generates the most views per average video.

Absolute numbers per category in 2018

Even though the Music category received “only” 20% of all views in 2018, it also represented only 5% of all content on the platform. Music and Entertainment are the only two categories that disproportionally deliver high returns (views) on investment (amount of content = hosting & distribution cost).

Also the two most popular categories are also the least “native” to YouTube and YouTube has to license their content.

If you are curious, here you can find list of top 10 videos per each category as of Dec 31st, 2018.

Distribution of videos based on the views

Forget the Pareto principe (80/20 rule). YouTube’s distribution is significantly worse. Only 0.64% of all videos ever reach more than 100,000 views.

Why does it matter?

Distribution of views as % of total views on the platform

Because these 0.64% represent an incredible 81.6% of all views on the platform. You read it right. Should YouTube remove 99.36% of all underperforming videos, they would save an astounding amount of money and still retain most of the revenue (especially considering that most of the underperforming videos are on channels that don’t meet monetization criteria).

Distribution of views per category

Music is the only category that consistently attracts hundreds of millions of users to watch the same videos over and over. The first video that ever broke 1B view mark was a music video. The vast majority of videos with over 1B views are music videos.

Not all content is equal.

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