Coverage of Capitol Attack Generates Millions of YouTube Views for TV Networks

Crowds gather outside the U.S. Capitol for the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.
(Image credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

As the historic events unfolded on Capitol Hill during the afternoon and evening of Jan. 6, people around the world tuned into news networks and social media to follow what was happening. The TV networks also harnessed social platforms such as YouTube to share breaking news, videos and more as the Capitol was thrown into chaos.

According to social video analytics company Tubular Labs, as of this writing there have been over 207 million views on YouTube videos related to the U.S. Capitol crisis and its aftermath, with 5 million engagements. Four out of the top 10 videos by views were live streams to YouTube, including the No. 1 clip: NBC News’ “Live: Congress Resumes Electoral Vote Count After Rioters Cleared From Capitol” with 14.9 million views (the video is no longer available) — making it NBC News’ 11th most-watched YouTube video ever. 

Also Read: Networks Hustle to Cover Capitol Coup

CBS News also had a top-five most-viewed video, “Live coverage: Protesters swarm Capitol, abruptly halting electoral vote count,” which has racked up nearly 3.9 million views. The popularity of these live YouTube streams illustrates how social video can help networks reach households that may not be linear TV subscribers, but who still want access to breaking news. In this respect, platforms like YouTube aren’t necessarily a threat to traditional networks, but rather a way to supplement their content and reach viewers beyond the live TV audience. 

In the days following Jan. 6, networks continued to leverage YouTube to share updates, such as CNN’s “More arrests made after riots at the US Capitol,” which is the No. 7 most-viewed clip so far related to the U.S. Capitol events, with nearly 3 million views, nearly all of which occurred in the first three days after it was uploaded on Jan. 9. 

MSNBC also drew a large number of viewers for its Capitol Hill coverage on YouTube. Its video “Must-See New Video Shows Capitol Riot Was Way Worse Than We Thought” has generated 11.4 million views in the five days its been live, making it the network’s third most-watched YouTube clip ever. 

It’s worth noting the absence of Fox News from the ranking of top videos related to the Capitol Hill events. The network’s most-watched YouTube video related to the events, “US Capitol on lockdown as protests threaten security,” has 979K views.

Looking at Tubular Audience Ratings for the three major cable news networks provides an additional perspective on how they’ve performed on YouTube recently. In November, CNN won for unique viewers (34 million) and 30-second views (173.7 million). But when examining total minutes watched, Fox News ranked highest with 1 billion. While MSNBC had the fewest total minutes watched (632.3 million), its audience consumed more individual videos on average — 7.3, vs. CNN’s 5 and Fox News’ 4.8 — and it had the highest count of minutes watched per viewer (36.7).