How Vox Media’s Verge Science is growing on YouTube

In May 2018, Vox Media’s Verge Science launched its own YouTube channel as the science-centric property shifted its attention away from Facebook. Since then, the channel has quickly grown to more than 600,000 subscribers by focusing on what works on YouTube: community and consistent programming.

Since launching its YouTube channel, Verge Science has accrued more than 638,000 subscribers, 30 million video views and 150 million minutes of watch time, with an average completion rate of 65 percent for its videos, according to a Vox Media spokesperson. In November 2018, Verge Science accumulated 5.3 million views on YouTube, according to data from Tubular Labs.

One way Verge Science has been able to grow watch time and completion rates is by incentivizing users to interact after they’ve finished watching a video. Verge Science “always” adds a question to foster discussion to the end of its videos, said Helen Havlak, editorial director at The Verge. Those discussion questions can push viewers to leave comments on the video and respond to other, all of which can help to curry favor with YouTube’s algorithm, Havlak said.

Verge Science also creates somewhat hidden behind-the-scenes videos to reward members of its audience that engage beyond an individual video view. It did this for its most-watched video, which centered on graphene and has garnered more than 9.1 million views to date.

That unlisted behind-the-scenes video can only be accessed if someone has a link to the video, meaning that it wouldn’t appear in people’s YouTube feeds or the list of videos on Verge Science’s YouTube channel. Verge Science distributed the video in three ways, according to Havlak. At the end of the original graphene video, it appeared as the end card that people could click on to watch. Verge Science also posted a link to it atop the comments of the original video. And it posted the video in its community tab, which is like YouTube’s version of a Facebook page’s timeline. Around 12,000 people clicked through to watch the unlisted video, Havlak said.

Easter eggs like unlisted videos shared on the sly can encourage viewers to spend more time on Verge Science’s YouTube channel, which means they are spending more time on YouTube, which is a top priority for the platform.

“One of the most important signals right now in the YouTube algorithm is session duration. Videos that can keep people excited and engaged for a long time have been the videos that are winning for us with the audience,” said Havlak.

The Verge Science channel is overseen by a team of three people. By focusing on releasing one well-produced video per week, Verge Science has been able to grow without stretching resources too thin while also satiating what YouTube’s algorithm favors: consistency.

“We have found that what works very well on YouTube is predictable tune-in viewing. So we upload videos once a week at the same time. Our audience has come to expect those and tune in for those,” Havlak said.

To further boost the amount of time people spend watching its videos, Verge Science plans to produce the first episodic series for its YouTube channel this year, said Donovan. The focus of that series will be unnatural selection. Verge Science piloted the series with a video about domesticated foxes that was uploaded in September and has accrued 5.3 million views to date.

The episodic series could help Vox Media to attract more advertisers for the Verge Science YouTube channel. So far the channel has made money primarily from pre-roll and mid-roll ads sold by YouTube and Vox Media’s sales team, though it signed a sponsorship deal with the U.S. Army — the channel’s first sponsorship — that ran in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to Steven Belser, gm at The Verge.

Episodic video series also offer a way for Verge Science to develop intellectual property that Vox Media’s Vox Entertainment could adapt to original shows to sell to streaming services or TV networks. That kind of thing is already a part of Vox Media’s plan, but Vox Media publisher Melissa Bell said there are no examples yet that she can discuss publicly.

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