YouTube’s 2018 Rewind video was widely criticized for not accurately representing its community’s growth and contributions to the platform. Data across YouTube Categories, however, tells a more complete story. In this post, we’ll examine Category growth trends in views and subscribers across YouTube, and we’ll look at how growth in three categories—Film, Sports, and Tech—responded to world events. (Note: the data used in this analysis is drawn from the public YouTube Data API. This data presents occasional inconsistencies, which are responsible for any significant spikes in our charts and graphs.)
The Music and Entertainment categories were the clear front-runners: Music grew by more than 400 billion views and Entertainment was a close second, with almost 350 billion new views in 2018. This was more than double the growth of the third-place category, People, which grew by approximately 150 billion views.
The growth trends were similar for subscribers: Music channels gained over 1.2 billion new subscribers in 2018, and Entertainment channels grew by approximately 875 million subscribers. Animals, Autos, Non-Profit, Shows, and Travel experienced the lowest growth numbers, both in terms of viewership and subscribers.
But growth wasn’t consistent throughout the year. In general, growth in viewership slowed in February, stayed relatively constant throughout the winter and early spring, and increased in the summer. Growth then slowed slightly in the fall and spiked again in December.
These trends are even more apparent if we remove the Music and Entertainment categories from the graph. The increased summer growth may have been related to the academic calendar: both students and parents tend to have more free time—and thus more time to watch YouTube—during the summer holidays. Similarly, the increased December growth was likely related to the holiday vacation time enjoyed by both students and employees.
Subscriber growth experienced similar trends. Like viewership, subscriber growth tended to increase in the summer months, with several categories, including Entertainment, Comedy, Games, and Tech, experiencing faster growth in December. A few channels saw growth spikes throughout the year: Games subscriptions spiked in March, while Film and Entertainment subscribers spiked in April. (Note: the subscriber growth data for the months of March and April has been removed in the chart below due to an error in the public YouTube Data API that skewed the scale of the graph.)
Now let’s take an in-depth look at a few specific categories. In February, a notorious “dump month” in the film industry, the Film category saw relatively slow growth in both views and subscribers. There was increased growth, however, in March, perhaps because of the Oscars, which aired on March 4. This growth continued into April for subscriber numbers. The fastest-growing month for Film viewership was August, which came on the heels of particularly slow growth in July. This August spike may have been due to the release of trailers for fall Oscar-season releases.
Sports viewership increased in June, stayed high in July, and slowed in August. This increased summer growth coincided with the FIFA world cup, which took place in Russia from July 14 to 18 and was popular with viewers around the world. There was a small spike in Sports subscriptions and increased viewership in March, the month of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and March Madness brackets. Similarly, views and subscribers both grew quickly in October, the only month of the year in which all four professional American sports leagues—MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA—are active. Interestingly, growth in both views and subscribers slowed in February, a huge sports month for both international viewers and Americans: Super Bowl LII took place on February 4, and the Winter Olympics were held in PyeongChang, South Korea, on February 9–25.
The fastest-growing month for the Tech category was December, a peak retail month as consumers gear up for the holiday season. Viewership may have spiked as users researched gift options by watching tech reviews by YouTubers such as Marques Brownlee. There was a slight increase in viewership growth in October, perhaps due to the release of a new fleet of Apple products in late September and the unveiling of the Google Pixel 3 on October 9. Notably, the release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 in August did not coincide with a significant spike in either views or subscriber growth.
While YouTube Rewind 2018 may have presented a limited picture of the community’s growth throughout 2018, it is clear that all categories, from Music and Entertainment to Animals and Travel, flourished over the past year, and that growth often responded to world events and the holiday calendar. It will be interesting to see if 2019 brings similar trends. We’ll continue our analysis of 2018 YouTube data in our next blog post, which will examine how countries across the world grew in their engagement with the platform.