The study also grouped the most popular videos into broader news categories, such as politics, celebrity or disasters. Videos about the 2012 Russian election, for instance, tended to fall into the government category. Most of the videos about the Arab Spring fit into the category of political protest.

Together, government and politics accounted for 22% of the most popular videos over the 15 months studied.

That was followed by footage of disasters (20%), fueled in large part by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, as well as the stage collapse at the August 2011 Indiana state fair and the January 2012 crash of an Italian cruise ship.

Video of protests and riots made up 9% of the top videos, including the protests in the Middle East and the London riots of August 2011.


The most watched topics on YouTube did not differ much from the news agenda of visual mediums in the mainstream press during the same time period, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. Compared with the three major network evening newscasts (ABC, CBS and NBC), many of the same topics received the bulk of the attention.

Disasters were the most covered subject on both network evening news (11% of the airtime for those 15 months) and YouTube. Politics and government were each among the top four topics on YouTube, and among the top six on the networks. Overall, of the twelve top subjects watched on YouTube, seven of them were also among the top twelve on the evening news programs.

The subjects where the two platforms did not overlap are noteworthy, however. Protest, for example, was the second most popular topic on YouTube but was not among the leading subjects on network evening news. And four subjects that might be described as less strictly visual-foreign affairs, economics, health and business-were all subjects that received more coverage on the evening programs than they did attention on YouTube.