July 25, 2019

A Week in the Life of Popular YouTube Channels

1. Popular YouTube channels produced a vast amount of content, much of it in languages other than English

YouTube is vast and constantly changing. In order to craft a manageable and meaningful research project, Pew Research Center limited the scope of data collection to only the most popular channels on the site. These popular channels alone produced a total of 243,254 videos during the first week of 2019, totaling 48,486 hours of content. The average video was 12 minutes long, although the length of videos posted during this period varied widely: Some 3% of the videos lasted longer than 60 minutes.

These findings also hint at the scale of how many hours people around the globe watch videos on the platform. Collectively, the videos produced by these popular channels were viewed over 14.2 billion times worldwide after one week on the site. Of course, these views were spread across a vast number of videos – each individual video received an average of 58,358 views in its first week, although 50% received fewer than 3,860 views. Conversely, a small fraction of these videos received substantial engagement: The 10% most-viewed videos were responsible for 79% of all the views that went to new content posted by popular channels during the week.

Videos generally received the most engagement during their first day on the platform, with engagement tapering off over the course of the week following their publication. Collectively, two-thirds (64%) of the total views that these videos received in their first week on the platform came on the day they were posted – as did 79% of their likes, 73% of their dislikes and 80% of their comments.

A majority of channels that posted a video in the first week of 2019 did so in a language other than English, and a small number of channels produced the majority of videos

More than half of popular YouTube channels posted a video in first week of 2019, but majority produced content in languages other than English

Just over half of the popular channels on YouTube posted at least one video on the platform during the first week of 2019, and a majority of them posted content that contained segments in a language other than English.2 Of the 43,770 popular channels that the Center identified as of December 2018, 56% posted a video in the first week of the new year. And within this subset of active channels, 28% posted videos exclusively in English. Meanwhile, 67% posted videos exclusively in languages other than English, and 5% posted videos in multiple languages including English.

“Active” channels (those that posted at least one video in the first week of 2019) ranged widely in the quantity of content they produced during the first week of 2019. Three-in-ten (31%) of these active popular channels posted exactly one video, while 55% posted more than one video but fewer than 10. Just 14% posted 10 or more videos during the study period, but this subset of channels was responsible for publishing 75% of all of the videos uploaded by popular channels during the week.

Channels that posted in both English and another language were especially likely to be part of this highly active group. Just 7% of English-only channels posted 10 or more videos, but that share increased to 16% among channels that posted exclusively in other languages, and to 36% among channels that posted videos in both English and other languages.

Popular channels that posted in English and other languages created more content during the study period

To some extent, high levels of activity among channels that posted in both English and other languages are to be expected, because these channels by definition had to post at least two videos (one in English and one in another language) in order to belong to this group. At the same time, channels that posted in English and other languages posted more non-English videos than did channels that posted exclusively in other languages (15 videos in other languages vs. 11, on average), and also posted more English-language videos (an average of 11) than did channels that posted exclusively in English (average of 4).

Across all three groups (channels that posted exclusively in English, those that posted exclusively in languages other than English, and those that posted a mix of English and other languages) the 10 individual channels that posted the largest number of videos during the week were dominated by those offering news and sports content. For lists of the 10 most-active channels in each of these groups, see Appendix A.

Fewer than one-in-five videos from popular YouTube channels were in English, but these videos received more views than videos in other languages

Thanks to these high levels of posting activity by non-English and multilingual channels, the majority of the individual videos posted by all popular channels were in a language other than English. This analysis finds that more than four out of every five videos uploaded to the site during the week contained content in a language other than English, while 17% of all the videos posted by popular channels during the week were in English. But despite being less common than videos in other languages, English-language videos tended to be more popular, generating a median of 13,316 views (99,043 on average) in their first week, compared with a median of just 3,028 (50,310 on average) for videos in other languages.

English-language videos received more views during the week relative to content in other languagesPut differently, English-language videos comprised just 17% of the videos that were published by popular channels during the week, but they received 28% of all of the views received by popular-channel videos during their first week after being published. English-language videos also received more likes (298 median vs. 42), dislikes (16 median vs. 5) and comments (47 median vs. 6) and were longer than videos with content in other languages (a median of 7 minutes vs. 4).

  1. Videos were classified using a supervised machine learning model trained on a dataset of 3,900 human-labeled videos. Videos containing any prominent content in another language (spoken or written) were marked as such, unless the video contained complete English subtitles. Videos that contained no spoken language were considered to qualify as English. The classifier achieved a high degree of accuracy (98%), precision (96%) and recall (92%), but a minority of videos may have been misclassified. All videos flagged as English were examined and false positives were corrected. However, the set of videos that have been labeled as containing content in another language – which was too large to examine and correct – may contain a small number of English videos. Findings presented here should accordingly be treated as estimates.