A recent Pew Research Center study analyzing nearly 50,000 YouTube channels found that videos featuring children who appear to be younger than 13 receive triple the views of videos that do not.
The study, published yesterday, is an analysis of every video posted in the first week of 2019 by 43,770 YouTube channels, each of which had more than 250,000 subscribers. In those seven days, the 43,770 channels posted nearly a quarter-million videos. Those videos were, on average, 12 minutes long each — a collective total of 48,486 hours of content. Together, the videos received more than 14.2 billion views in their first seven days on YouTube.
Pew indicates that only a small number of the quarter-million videos were aimed at children, and those that were “tended to be longer, received more views, and came from channels with a larger number of subscribers relative to general-audience videos.” But overall, Pew found the type of YouTube content that attracts the most views — more than adult-oriented content about gaming, more than content about cats, more than reaction videos — is videos made for children that also feature a child under 13.
The fact that children’s programming is popular on YouTube isn’t a revelation. Companies like Moonbug (the entity behind Little Baby Bum, which has 18.9 million subscribers) and Pinkfong (which created “Baby Shark,” the viral earworm that’s amassed 3.1 billion views) have structured their entire businesses around making children’s content for the platform. And a number of YouTube’s highly-subscribed-to creators already figured out that content involving young kids gets views. Channels like Ryan ToysReview (20.8 million subscribers and millions in income thanks to his metric ton of merch deals), The ACE Family (17.1 million), and The LaBrant Fam (9.7 million) all pull in millions of views per month with content featuring very young children.
YouTube is well aware that children’s content is a goldmine, too. In 2015, it created an entirely separate branchoff platform, YouTube Kids, which exclusively houses videos for kids.
Pew’s discovery that videos featuring kids under 13 — even if those videos aren’t aimed at children — receive a staggering three times the views of other types of videos, though…that’s something new. And though they may be wholly unrelated and separate phenomena, the stat brings to mind child safety issues YouTube has been dealing with for years. Controversy came to a head again most recently in February, when YouTuber Matt Watson discovered a still-thriving “wormhole” of YouTube videos and comments fetishizing young children (a problem YouTube has looked at employing YouTube Kids to solve).
To be clear, whether this bloated viewership for content featuring kids stems from a nefarious cause isn’t certain. Humans may just have a natural affinity for wanting to watch videos featuring cute little humans. A YouTube spokesperson told The Verge that the platform can’t “speak to Pew’s methodology or results,” but said that “generally on YouTube, the most popular video categories tend to be areas like comedy, music, sports, and ‘how to.’”
Pew’s study found several other common denominators associated with popular channels. In addition to finding that channels with videos of children received more views, it found that there are a handful of video title keywords that result in higher view counts. Specifically, it noted that videos with “Fortnite,” “prank,” or “worst” in their titles received more than five times as many views as videos without those keywords.
Pew also reaffirmed that gaming is one of YouTube’s biggest draws, with nearly one in five English-language videos centering around video games or content related to gaming.
And finally, it found that creators who cross-promote their videos on other platforms like Instagram or Twitter get more views on average than those who don’t.