YouTube is closing in on TV with one billion hours watched every day


YouTube very rarely updates its statistics page. In fact, at the time of writing, it still says that “every day people watch hundreds of millions of hours of YouTube”. They’re selling it short – the company has announced that the site passes the billion hours mark every day.

The company says it has been tracking hours viewed rather than page impressions as the key metric, as it gives more useful insights into whether someone is actually enjoying what they’re watching, rather than bouncing around aimlessly. And by harnessing this data, they’ve been able to drive viewing duration up tenfold in the last five years.

One useful tidbit: if you wanted to watch one billion hours of YouTube, then you’d better hope for some serious scientific advancements stat, because it will take you 100,000 years. Oh, and bear in mind that every day an extra 65 years of video gets added to the platform, so this is one treadmill that’s never ending.

How much of this content is actually good, of course, is another question entirely. The majority of YouTube videos never get more than a handful of views, although some people have gotten very rich off the back of it.

Television is rightly worried by this, and its curated approach feels massively out of date – especially when plenty of the stuff that surfaces on YouTube wouldn’t make it past censors on regular TV networks. But despite the billion hours per day consumed, TV comfortably remains the dominant format: as The Wall Street Journal notes, Americans consume 1.25 billion hours of TV each day – which sounds close, but remember that YouTube is fishing in a pool of 7bn people worldwide, rather than the 326 million people that live in the US.

Still, the numbers are undoubtedly going in opposite directions here around the world. YouTube has seen a ten-fold increase in viewership in the last five years (pushed hard by algorithmic video recommendations, according to the site) while TV is in steady decline. 

YouTube’s (admittedly outdated) stats page makes it clear that its main market is millennials, and that means the trend is only going one way. TV networks may have to take drastic action to stay competitive with a generation that’s used to limitless choice and has no interest in being bound by the tyranny of TV schedules.

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