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95% of the time YouTube promotes legacy media in its Trending tab, not YouTubers

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A new study that analyzed over 40,000 videos that hit the YouTube Trending tab between November 2017 and June 2018 has shown that a staggering 95% of all news on this Trending tab comes from legacy media outlets. Independent YouTuber creators have long suspected that the Trending tab is set up to favor mainstream media outlets and this new data provides new evidence that validates these long-standing suspicions.

The study from Coffee Break involved classifying the creators of the 40,000+ videos using the following key:

  • YT (Purple): YouTuber – Someone who originally started on this site, primary outreach is through YouTube
  • CO (Orange): Commercial – Primary objective is selling products
  • TR (Green): Trailer – Movie Trailer/Movie Production Company / Video Game
  • Music (Red): Musician – Musician/Music Videos
  • TM (Blue): Traditional Media – a show on TV, newspaper, or website that got their celebrity status BEFORE YouTube, or Corporation trying to leverage YouTube for the purposes of getting you off site
  • CV (Brown): Conventional Viral – YouTuber has < 10,000 subscribers, what virality used to mean

If the creators produced news content, they were also given an additional “news” classifier.

Coffee Break then looked at the percentage of news videos that came from the different types of video creators based on the key above and found that 95% were from traditional media outlets.

A pie chart showing that 95% of the Trending news videos from the study were created by traditional media outlets.
Source: Coffee Break – What 40,000 Videos Tell Us About The Trending Tab

The study also looked at the average number of views it takes for specific channels to get their videos onto the YouTube Trending tab and how often videos from these channels hit trending. In the news category, it compared these metrics for YouTuber Philip DeFranco and traditional media outlet the Associated Press (AP) and found that:

  • Philip DeFranco only trended twice and it took an average of 1.4 million views before his videos hit Trending
  • Associated Press (AP) trended seven times and it took an average of just 10,000 for its videos to appear on the Trending tab

Independent YouTube creators have long suspected that YouTube favors traditional media outlets over homegrown YouTubers and this study provides one of the clearest examples of this bias that we’ve seen to date.

The bias can partially be explained by recent changes YouTube made to the algorithm to favor what it deems to be “authoritative news” from traditional media outlets across the site. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki recently discussed how during breaking news events, YouTube will often trigger “authoritative news” and limit the distribution of content from other creators.

However, even with this “authoritative news” trigger, the number of traditional news media outlets hitting YouTube’s Trending tab seems disproportionately high. Requiring smaller creators like DeFranco to get 10 times the views of larger corporations like AP in order to have a chance of hitting Trending indicates that the system is heavily weighted in favor of these traditional media outlets.

And while this is just one example, many of the independent news commentators on YouTube consistently get more views than the traditional media outlets that are on Trending at any given time.

These viewing figures and this study show that YouTube’s Trending tab is clearly a tool that pushes traditional media outlets.

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