Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
4 mins read

For most news publishers, Vox’s YouTube strategy is impossible to copy

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But carpet cleaning videos might be a better inspiration

A recent Pew Research survey of American teens (ages 13 to 17) shows that TikTok is one of the leading social media platforms that has everyone talking about it. Meanwhile Facebook has dramatically sunk in popularity.

I suspect the trend is very similar in Europe and elsewhere; we are all just a bit behind the US that tends to lead.

What I have not seen people freak out about as much was the fact that YouTube is literally used by every teenager (95%). Again, this is US data and we only have bits and pieces regarding Europe and elsewhere.

Still, it’s safe to assume YouTube is really popular among teens all over the world. The survey data basically says that if you are a teen and you have a smartphone and access to mobile internet, you are using YouTube all the time. That’s pretty wild.

So, with this in mind, the logical question would be – what’s your newsroom’s YouTube strategy?

YouTube for publishers: Should you copy the most successful ones? Can you?

The British-based Press Gazette recently published three extensive looks at who are the biggest English-speaking news publishers on YouTube, a second one looking at the YouTube strategy at The Sun and The Guardian and another one looking at the growth of Vox’s channel.

The first piece revealed the US-based Vox has by far the most average views per video. The U.S publisher has spent years building up its video offering on the Google-owned video platform.

Their channel reached the 10 million subscriber milestone in October 2021. It took them seven years to cross this threshold. The team had 31 producers, animators and story editors at the time. This July, Press Gazette wrote the team stood at 20. The Sun’s video team also has over two dozen people.

The Vox video team even produced a video celebrating the milestone and shared many of their favorite resources.

For years now, whenever I was speaking to various newsrooms, many watched what Vox had been doing, and it was almost like the North Star. Unreachable for most, might I add.

While Vox relies heavily on animation and visual anchors that show the topic discussed (a style which The New York Times has also been using for their visual investigations series), Sun’s and Guardian’s videos resonate more with a traditional TV approach with video hosts and a documentary style.

Keep in mind, these publishers have over a dozen or two dozen people working on a video team and there are only a handful of news outlets that are able to build up such a big team.

Looking at it from the perspective of a midsize or even a national news organisation in most of Europe (e.g. a tiny 5-million strong Slovakia in my case), you can only dream of having such resources.

What I would suggest, and not that I’ve seen anyone doing this, is that for the smaller outlets it would make more sense taking a page out of the playbook of single-person YouTubers who have broken through with much lower production videos, and yet are watched by millions.

Taking a cue from carpet-cleaning videos and other YouTube stars

My favourite example of YouTubers are carpet cleaning videos, especially those with ASMR audio layer. In the video above, you see a video posted by a US-based cleaning service called Change Cleaning Services.

The video was posted in March 2022 and in less than six months has garnered more than 16 million views. “No annoying music, no talking, plenty of info, beautiful shots, masterful work,” reads one of the top comments.

“This is my new night routine ???? Watching rugs being cleaned. It’s just so relaxing,” wrote another viewer.

“I don’t think they would have imagined when they invented television, that at least 11 million people would spend 15 minutes watching someone wash a rug,” noted a third commenter and I totally relate.

I have spent unreasonable amounts of time watching these kinds of videos on YouTube. And there are millions of people like me. I should say hundreds of millions as everyone has their own niche they cannot stop watching.

Another story I wanted to share is of a London-based Doordash delivery driver. The 28-year-old Milo Sterlini started his London Eats YouTube channel in November 2019 documenting his work delivering food around London.

So he turned to YouTube, searching for ways to make extra cash. Among the suggestions: food delivery. He started working for Uber Eats in September 2019, and two months later he launched a YouTube channel, London Eats, documenting his work delivering food around the city on his electric scooter.

I’m not sure where I first learned about Sterlini’s side hustle while doing his main job (although, further down the line it will get increasingly blurry which one is the real job), but Input, a technology and culture publication, recently published a nice profile of him.

Sterlini does his regular job, being a Doordash delivery driver, but unlike a regular driver, he films what he is doing and comments a lot – on traffic, on “sketchy drivers”, on his projects, on people crossing at the wrong place, anything that comes to his mind the viewer will hear.

His videos are not yet watched by millions, but he is big enough to get brand deals and organise giveaways for other companies.

Both examples, the carpet cleaning and Sterlini’s London Eats channel, hold a valuable lesson: what if there are millions of people interested in your (boring) job or repetitive task you are doing. The answer is simple – strap a camera onto yourself, start recording and put it on YouTube to see. 

Of course, it is not that simple and there is a certain mastery that comes with the job. Apart from a small number of creators, it usually takes some time until you get noticed, build your presence, get better and are able to grow your channel to a point it makes sense financially.

David Tvrdon

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.