History Suggests Fox News Will Win Cable News Ratings for 1st Presidential Debate

Rise of Indie News Creators: Less Than Half of YouTube’s Most Watched News Channels Tied to Legacy Brands

Major outlets like MSNBC and CNN often trail independent news channels when it comes to Youtube views and engagement

Viewers are nearly as likely to turn to independent news shows as they are big-budget news operations on YouTube — with independent creators often pulling in views that are comparable (or even stronger) than established outlets like MSNBC — according to a new study from Pew Research Center on Monday.

Out of the most-watched news channels on YouTube, 42% of them are independently run, compared to 49% that are tied to legacy media, Pew found. (The remaining 9% are “associated with other types of organizations,” Pew said.) Strikingly, 70% of the most popular independent channels are built around a central personality. And a majority of the time, those creators are true YouTubers, or people who initially “gained a following through their YouTube presence,” rather than a “structured organization.”

“The study finds a news landscape on YouTube in which established news organizations and independent news creators thrive side by side — and consequently, one where established news organizations no longer have full control over the news Americans watch,” Pew said.

“Indeed, the survey finds that most YouTube news consumers say they at least sometimes turn to news organizations as well as independent channels for news on the platform, and identical shares (23% each) often turn to each type of source.”

This is the first time Pew has looked at independent news and legacy outlets on YouTube, a rep said, so it’s unclear how this compares to years past. What does stand out, though, is that the gap in views and engagement between many independent creators and legacy outlets is negligible.

For example, “The David Pakman Show” — a progressive news show based out of Boston — pulled in 767,000 views on its most-popular video between Saturday and Monday afternoon. It topped the view count on all but one video posted by MSNBC during that same time period; the most-watched CNN clip between Saturday and Monday has about 500,000 views.

Pakman, during an interview with TheWrap, said his channel has grown to 1 million subscribers based on two factors: quality production and, most importantly, a consistent schedule.

“The big thing has just been consistency. There are a lot of channels that never really get going because, even if the content is good, it’s produced unpredictably, and it’s unclear when the next video is coming. One of the things we did from the beginning is our team knows what the schedule is and the expectations are, and we produce content on that schedule,” Pakman said.

He added: “Obviously, if the content just [isn’t] good, consistency won’t do much for you. But that’s been the starting point for us — we set an expectation of when people can expect content from us.”

Pakman’s success isn’t an anomaly, either. Other independent creators routinely get six and seven-figure viewership on their videos.

Tim Pool, a former Vice reporter and self-described “disaffected liberal,” averaged 598,000 views over the last week on his videos, which he posts once per day. His shows, which run about 25-30 minutes, touch a myriad of hot political stories and include eye-grabbing screengrabs and titles. Recent show titles include “Kamala Harris PRAISES Leftist Riots Saying ‘Fighting’ Is Essential, Trump Declares Antifa A TERROR Org,” and “Trump Has Secured ALL VOTES to Confirm New Judge, Democrats PANIC, Threaten Massive Backlash.”

When it comes to YouTube views, Fox News appears to perform the best when compared to other cable outlets. Clips from Tucker Carlson’s nightly show typically get about 1 million views and many other clips get upwards of 500,000 views.

Pew pointed to a few key differences between most independent news channels and major outlets.

“For instance,” it said, “[on a per-month basis] news organizations posted a much higher volume of videos than independent sources (33 vs. 12 for the typical channel of each type), while independent channels’ videos were typically much longer (more than 12 minutes, compared with about five minutes for videos from channels affiliated with news organizations).”

It’s also important to point out Pew’s data is based on 12,638 Americans who were polled between early and mid-January. In other words, it’s unclear how Pew’s data may have changed after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. Overall, “about a quarter of all U.S. adults (26%) say they get news on YouTube,” Pew said.

Sean Burch