A year on YouTube: What brands can learn from the videos Aussies and Kiwis loved in 2020

Mark Wheeler / January 2021

2020 challenged us in many ways in the midst of a global pandemic. We navigated economic uncertainties, worked towards a broader awareness of racial inequities, and rebuilt after devastating bushfires. As people looked for ways to cope and connect, many turned to online video. YouTube reached over 80% of the Aussie population in April 2020,1 and more than 3 million people in New Zealand ages 18 and older watched content on the platform in October 2020 alone.2

Considering how Aussies’ No. 1 criterion for valuable content is whether it aligns with their personal passions and interests, creating meaningful experiences for viewers starts with understanding what they care about. Here are three ways viewers’ preferences evolved last year, and what their behaviour means for brands in 2021.

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1. Viewers gravitated towards helpful and relatable creators

Almost one-third of Aussies and 32% of Kiwis reconnected with their hobbies as they adjusted to lockdowns and social distancing — and a lot of them turned to online video for advice and virtual companionship. That’s why the creators who broke through in 2020 were the ones who helped viewers better themselves while connecting with others.

For instance, more people started looking for ways to stay fit without hitting the gym — so much so that daily views of videos with “home workout” in the title were 6X higher in the last two weeks of March compared to the start of 2020.3 Creators such as Aussie Chloe Ting (17.4M subscribers) subsequently caught viewers’ attention by responding with relevant content. She trended across Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States with her at-home workout routines and gained more than 14 million subscribers on YouTube in 2020.4

Chloe Ting’s workout videos surged in popularity as people looked for ways to exercise at home.

Creators who helped viewers unwind and have a laugh also captivated audiences. Aussie interior design and architecture YouTube channel Never Too Small (1.5M subscribers) continued to appear on YouTube's Trending feed with its beautiful captures of tiny, sustainable spaces. Kiwi creator Jordan Watson — also known as How to DAD (1M subscribers) — made light of the time we were all spending in the kitchen with his comedic series of top-performing branded content with HelloFresh.

How to DAD’s Jordan Watson kept at-home chefs company by sharing funny videos of him cooking dinner.

Global research shows relating to viewers’ passions matters most in Australia. So, it’s no surprise that content creators are becoming more and more popular — they share niche and relevant experiences across a wide range of interests. Daily views of YouTube videos with #WithMe in the title were 7X higher in the last two weeks of March compared to the start of 2020.5 And there are now over 100 channels with more than 1 million subscribers in Australia alone.

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2. Virtual experiences became increasingly important

As restrictions were placed on most aspects of daily life, Aussies sought out opportunities to connect with others online. Watch time for YouTube viewed on TV screens grew over 65% year over year (YOY) in Australia.6 Virtual sing-a-longs from channels such as Australia’s Pub Choir (44K subscribers) also exploded as viewers yearned for connection.

People couldn’t visit theatres or attend live shows, so cultural and arts events also made a virtual shift. The ARIA Awards and London Fashion Week took place online in 2020, and channels such as the Sydney Opera House (113K subscribers) and The Australian Ballet (105K subscribers) live-streamed iconic performances. In New Zealand, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi teamed up with Roald Dahl HQ on YouTube to read “James and the Giant Peach” and fundraise for Partners in Health.

The Sydney Opera House allowed viewers to enjoy full-length performances while staying safely at home.

Sports fans were also able to unite virtually by watching highlights from matches such as the one between Australia and India during the Dettol T20I Series, which has over 39 million views. The National Rugby League delighted viewers by premiering all-time classic games on YouTube. Aussie athlete David Warner even launched his own YouTube channel, providing fans with more online places to share their passions. This suggests the future of video may increasingly be influenced by shared experiences and shows there’s a growing opportunity for brands on YouTube to connect with sports enthusiasts.

Aussie athlete David Warner shared about his family and his life as a cricketer on his YouTube channel.

3. Audiences confronted adversity

People around the world searched “why” more than ever in 2020. To make sense of an uncertain, changing world, Aussies and Kiwis turned to YouTube to upskill, advocate for change, and find solace. Here are three emerging trends we’ve observed:

A renewed focus on personal development

Global watch time of how-to videos with “for beginners” or “step by step” in the title increased 65% YOY as people focused on developing new skills.7 Some learned how to care for plants or cut their own hair, while others picked up tips for working from home, cooking new dishes, and educating their children.

Marion Grasby shared recipes to help people recreate their favourite cuisines on their own.

More Aussies started looking for ways to make home cosier as they spent more time indoors. This was evident as watch time of home improvement videos doubled YOY between April and June 2020 across the country.8 People also chose to watch videos that helped them look after their mental well-being and hear practical advice about staying safe and healthy.

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Passion for social change and advocacy

When protests against racial injustice spread across the world, people used online video to scrutinise history; explore identity; and call for advocacy, allyship, and action. As global interest in the Black Lives Matter movement grew, viewers sought to educate themselves and get involved. In the first 10 days of June 2020 alone, global views of videos related to Black Lives Matter surged more than 4X compared to the whole year of 2019.9

Aussies also became increasingly aware of social justice issues in their own communities, as shown by how search interest in “Reconciliation Week” peaked in May 2020. Creators and industry leaders also came together to raise awareness for Indigenous culture by virtually celebrating Indigenous Literacy Day and National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee Week.

Virtual Indigenous Literacy Day celebrations emphasised the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s first languages.

Uplifting and memorable moments

People from all over the world shared unique content and meaningful experiences on YouTube throughout 2020 to bring more light into a year of uncertainty. Aussie creators Elayna and Riley shared their travels with Greta Thunberg across the Atlantic Ocean on their channel Sailing La Vagabonde (1.5M subscribers), allowing viewers to get to know the activist while virtually sailing with her.

Content creators Elayna and Riley shared their travels with activist Greta Thunberg on YouTube and earned more than 1.4 million views.

Artists and athletes also used online video to support charities and social organisations. Aussie rock icons Powderfinger reunited on YouTube to raise over $500,000 for Support Act and Beyond Blue. Singer-songwriter Tash Sultana also live-streamed a concert in support of the New South Wales Government’s efforts to revitalise the live music industry. And at the Australian Open, Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios fundraised for bushfire relief by engaging in a friendly rally that was shared on YouTube.

Rock band Powderfinger reunited on YouTube for the first time since November 2010 to fundraise for charity.

Looking ahead to 2021

Viewers’ behaviours and preferences shifted in 2020 as they looked for new ways to cultivate connection, stay resilient, and be seen and heard by others. More and more people also created their own personal primetimes across devices whenever and wherever they wanted — from mobile to living room screens.

What matters most to viewers is sure to change in response to whatever this year holds, as it has since YouTube’s first-ever video was uploaded 15 years ago. Brands that respond quickly to people’s evolving needs and interests with relevant content will be the ones to catch viewers’ attention — and connect with their most valuable audiences.

Subscribe to the YouTube Re:View newsletter to keep up with what Aussie and Kiwi viewers love to watch as well as the region’s latest insights, and check out our “Top 10 Lists” to learn more about trending videos and breakthrough creators.

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