Why YouTube isn't overcrowded

There seems to be one question on the minds of all aspiring YouTuber's minds:

Isn’t YouTube oversaturated for me to get big/make money/[Insert Desire]?

There hasn’t been much stuff written about this topic, despite it being a FAQ of sorts. But let’s not make this an opinion piece. Instead let’s address this question by looking at the statistics and facts.

Now you might be asking:

Is this going to contain a lot of graphs?

Yes. Data visualisation is a great way to get people to understand what’s going on in the big picture. So there will be graphs when possible.

Here’s how we’ll answer the question

We’re going to go through 3 steps:

  1. Look at the stats about Content Creators (Potential competition)
  2. Look at the stats about audience (Potential audience)
  3. Infer a possible answer

Why do it this way?

Well the thing is most answers to the ‘Is YouTube overcrowded’ question is based on opinion. And people fail to take into account both sides and just state confirming evidence to match their opinion.

So instead let’s take the two-way approach to look at things.

#1 Competition statistics

So first off we need to know the raw numbers on how many users there are on YouTube. This will give us a broad idea of where competition is headed:

Statistic: Number of YouTube users in the United States from 2014 to 2019 (in millions) | Statista
So as we can see in the graph, the number of users is rising but at a diminishing rate. But we can’t just look at this and say, ‘Competition is going up’. What if these are users creating accounts to subscribe to channels but are never making content?

Well in that case we’ll have to look at the trends in hours of video uploaded:

Hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute

The trend of course is obvious. An almost exponential rise in the number of hours uploaded and we could see up to 800 hours on content uploaded per minute by the end of 2016.

500 Hours of Video a Minute and counting

This of course is quite a staggering figure. Will this figure plateau one day? Inevitably. But for now, the data speaks for itself: A huge increase in the length and amount of content uploaded.

So why is this?

Well it’s easy to just use this data to show that there is more competition on YouTube and stop it there. But let’s take a step back and think what else could be causing this exponential spike in hours of video uploaded.

YouTube’s Algorithm

Recently there have been a fair number of people who have bought up the obvious increase in length of videos from users. Why is this?

Well take a look at the pie chart below created by Matt Gielen:

YouTube algorithm weight

So this might be a simplification on YouTube’s actual complex algorithm, but the overall picture being painted is right: YouTube favours watch time and people have used this to their advantage by uploading longer videos. It is now common to see videos greater than 10 minutes in length, as users try to ‘game’ the algorithm to their advantage.

So in Summary

If we take a look at the user side of the equation, there has been obvious growth, but potentially not as much as the numbers show. So if we could break it down to three things:

  1. The number of users on YouTube has increased, and will continue to increase
  2. Not all of those users are non-creators. There are more content creators meaning that there is a larger pool to compete with, judging by the hours uploaded and user base.
  3. That being said, YouTube does favour longer videos so we are seeing more YouTubers trying to take advantage of that. This does mean that the hours uploaded figures are slightly overstated.

Unfortunately, YouTube does not release figures on number of videos uploaded. This would be an ideal measuring stick for judging potential competition channels will have to deal with. But for now, looking at the three things mentioned we can say: Competition has increased year on year, and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

#2 Audience Statistics

Now the first graph which was shown in this article is the best indicator of pure number of users on YouTube. But not all people who watch YouTube have a channel. So a better indicator to the potential audience would be the percentage of internet users who view YouTube videos often:

Statistic: Frequency of U.S. internet users watching YouTube videos as of May 2013 | StatistaThis shows that roughly 70% of all internet users watch a YouTube video at least once a week and 82% watch it every couple of weeks at least.

But what about TV and Netflix?

The biggest competitor to online video and YouTube has been TV for a long time, but the trends are shifting:

YouTube vs TV

And of course another big competitor in the online video space is Netflix, but the data shows that people still spend an impressive amount of time on YouTube:

Infographic: People Still Prefer Watching Free Videos Online | Statista
You might be asking:

Why is this?

It might be hard to pinpoint a single reason as to why the trends are shifting in YouTube’s favour. But a simple way to look at it would be accessibility. Take a look at the graph below:

TV vs Youtube viewership by time of day

This chart does show why YouTube has a distinct advantage. You won’t be able to access TV or Netflix at work, but YouTube would not be off limits for most work spaces. This is of course great news for any budding content creators in the information/education space.

So in Summary

Looking at the data, there is great promise as to the potential audience which can be reached through YouTube. This time we can sum it up in 4 points:

  1. YouTube’s users are growing every year, and more and more people visit YouTube often for information and/or entertainment purposes
  2. The trends show YouTube emerging as a leader in the online video/media space, with it being growing faster than big time players like TV and Netflix
  3. People are spending more time on YouTube, but as mentioned Youtubers are producing longer and longer content in an effort to rise higher up in the rankings. So similar to the first section, the time spent on YouTube figure may be overstated due to the longer videos.
  4. YouTube is in a unique position, as access to TV/Netflix is not possible during work hours.

So considering all this it would be fair to say that: Audience engagement and audience size on YouTube has risen over time, and we could see that trend continuing on unless some severe market disruption occurs in the online video market.

#3 What this means

So overall we got two prevailing forces:

One with an increase in potential audience, and one with an increase in competition. So which one wins?

It’s a bit like an unstoppable force vs an immovable object type scenario. The two trends might be counteracting each other.

So what can we infer?

So there is sufficient evidence for both sides, so I don’t think someone can definitively say one or the other. With that said, here is the 2 conclusions which I have derived from this:

Inference #1

Using the word over-saturated or overcrowded implies that success can’t be achieved. That the market is not worth pursuing. That it’s too late already.

This is not the case. The most subscribed channel in 2010 was Fred, and his channel hasn’t had a video in over a year. Ray William Johnson was the most subscribed in 2013, and now he’s moved onto the Facebook video niche.

Widespread desires change and evolve, people get less funny over time due to repetitiveness and sometimes YouTubers seek money and move to more lucrative platforms.

The point is this: There is a place for your content, due to the fact that what people like changes over time. If the market was over-saturated, the same YouTubers would stay at the top and we would see little change. This is not what happens when you look at history.


The Stock Market.

Similar to the stock market, what had the most gains last year isn’t what grows the most this year. Here’s a quote to illustrate:

Fortune 500 firms in 1955 vs. 2014; 88% are gone, and we’re all better off because of that dynamic ‘creative destruction’

A similar creative destruction process is present in YouTube. What is popular today likely won’t be popular in 5 years’ time. There are a few ‘classics’ which stand the test of time, but similar to the stock market it is a minority.

Inference #2

There is greater competition on YouTube right now than a year ago.

You could re-read that sentence for the next 5 years and the point would still stand. A reason for this maybe the popularity of YouTuber’s in general. There have been many surveys which found YouTubers to be deemed more likeable than celebrities amongst younger generations.

“Looking at survey comments and feedback, teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities, who aren’t subject to image strategies carefully orchestrated by PR pros. Teens also say they appreciate YouTube stars’ more candid sense of humour, lack of filter and risk-taking spirit, behaviours often curbed by Hollywood handlers.”

It makes sense that people would want to replicate people they like. This could at least partially explain the large explosion in makeup tutorials, vlogging and gaming videos. All three are genres which have massive channels and popular personalities running them.

So we can at least partially explain why there is a want for people to become YouTubers and upload content. And the data does back that up as the article highlighted.

If you read the first sentence of this section, a lot of people would take this at face value and take a negative view on things. But what if it was rephrased like this:

There will be even greater competition a year from now

Or even this:

If you track the competition on YouTube using some metric for the next 5 years, it will be at its lowest today.

So after all this, what if you ask me:

Are you an optimist or pessimist on YouTube?

I’d say that YouTube is becoming a bigger and bigger part of people’s lives and by nature more people want in on some of that success.

I would say I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Instead as an opportunist I would look at this and see the value in starting ASAP. When compared to the near future you’d be dealing with the lowest competition today, and you can take advantage of a growing audience to the future if you start right now.

Maybe I’m wrong in saying that, but luckily you can infer your own conclusions from the data provided.

Dear optimists, pessimists, and realists,

While you were all arguing over the glass of water, I just drank it.

Sincerely, an opportunist.

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All Statista Graphs  link to original source

Hours uploaded: Link

Youtube Algorithm weight: Link

TV vs YouTube: Link

TV vs Youtube by time of day: Link



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