The Internet May Not Love YouTube as Much as It Thinks It Does


New data from Read It Later suggest that people are more loyal to Hulu content than they are to web-native videos.


In 2010, the content-saving service Read It Later started, quietly, to support in-app video streaming. Since then, the service has seen its video saves grow by 138 percent.

Today, the service has released data detailing the video-saving patterns of its more than 4 million users. And the info it shares is fascinating, especially if you consider a save itself, and then the return to it later on, as an expression of user attention. A click on a "read it later" button is an act of hope and/or aspiration; a return to saved content, however, is an act of true interest. 

With that in mind, check out Read It Later's return-by-domain data (above). CollegeHumor and -- both specializing in fairly short, generally funny, and usually viral-friendly videos -- have by far the highest return rates; next in the most-loyalty list comes content from Comedy Central (which could consist of both clips and full episodes of TV shows) and Hulu (ditto).

What's notable here is how relatively mainstream those most-returned-to videos are. CollegeHumor and may feature wacky content; that content, however -- generally speaking -- is fairly standardized. You won't get, on their platforms, much of this. And Comedy Central and Hulu, of course, not only feature shows in the Traditional TeeVee sense; they're also owned by cable conglomerates (Viacom, in Comedy Central's case, and, in Hulu's, Comcast/GE/News Corp/Disney). Which is surprising, especially in light of the fact that when you think of "web video" (if you're me, anyway), you tend to think of YouTube, and the defiantly random, awesomely amateur, short/shaky/silly videos that populate it. Charlie Bit My FingerDavid After Dentist. Star Wars Kid. Kittens.

Read It Later's return-rate info, on the other hand, suggests that the most popular -- as opposed to the most populous -- web video is actually the video that features extremely high production values and extremely low quotients of randomness. It suggests that the most addictive web video is the stuff that is either TV-like or imported, almost wholesale, from the tube. 

Somewhere, Jack Donaghy is smiling.

Compare the stats for the CollegeHumor/Comedy Central contingent with those for sites that are a little more edgy, a little more experimental, a little more amateur. For Vimeo and Brightcove -- and, notably, YouTube -- return rates hover at less than 50 percent. (That's an especially striking stat given that YouTube, in Read It Later's sample, accounts for a whopping 92 percent of all saves -- so while the site might get a significant number of returns overall, its loyalty rate is still relatively low.) People may save quirky, "David After Dentist"-y videos for later viewing; what they end up returning to most reliably, however, are the videos that are produced rather than uploaded -- the videos that take their cue not from the weird and wonderful web, but from Hollywood.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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