For many, YouTube is a beloved repository for humorous content, how-tos and general entertainment. However, YouTube is increasingly becoming a platform for news.
For four months between January 2011 to March 2012, the most searched-for terms on YouTube were related to news events, according to a Pew Research Center report released Monday.
The most popular videos on the web’s third most-visited site concerned natural disasters or political upheaval since videos with “intense visuals” tend to perform best, says Pew. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami was the most popular news event on the video network: In the week following the disaster (March 11 to 18), the 20 most-viewed videos related to the tragedy were viewed more than 96 million times.
The elections in Russia and unrest in the Middle East were the second and third most popular news topics, respectively. If the focus on international events seems unusual, remember that 70% of YouTube’s traffic comes from outside the U.S.
The footage itself was mixed — 58% of those included in the survey were edited; the remaining 42% was raw footage. Unlike much of the rest of the YouTube, personalities did not play a large role in a video’s success; no one person was featured in more than 5% of the most popular videos in the “News & Politics” section of YouTube between January 2011 and March 2012. Length, too, varied. The median video length was 2 minutes and 1 second, far longer than the average segment on local TV news, which is 41 seconds, and shorter than the 2-minute-and-23-second average national network evening newscasts allocate to a single story.
Both citizens and professionals are playing a role in video creation and distribution. A little more than half (51%) came from news organizations — or, at least, bore the logos of news organizations. Thirty-nine percent of the most-viewed videos came from citizens. Five percent came from corporate and political groups, and the sources of the remaining five percent could not be identified.
In many cases, the videos and their distribution were collaborative. As Pew notes, “a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic ‘dialogue’ many observers predicted would become the new journalism online.” Citizens are creating and posting their own videos, and even responsible for uploading more than a third of the content from news organizations. News organizations, in turn, are including citizen-produced content in their own reporting. The interplay, Pew observes, is creating a new kind of television news.
The collaboration is promising, but issues still exist. Although YouTube has guidelines for content attribution, not everyone adheres to them, nor do they offer a solution for every scenario. News organizations sometimes post citizen-captured video without clear attribution; in turn, citizens are repurposing copyrighted material without permission. All too often, the source of a video cannot be identified altogether, creating opportunity for manufactured or even falsified information to spread.
What’s perhaps most interesting about news-watching on YouTube is the way it enables consumers to set their own “on-demand” news agenda. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami registered among the most-viewed news subjects for three consecutive weeks following the disaster, for example.
And what does that mean for news organizations? Lots of positives, says Pew. YouTube offers considerable opportunities to grow one’s audience, brand and ad revenue — a thing perhaps best exemplified by YouTube’s revenue-sharing scheme with the newswire Reuters. It’s also a rich source for raw video footage.