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What YouTube's Top 2013 Videos Say About Us

YouTube trendspotters Kevin Allocca and Shira Lazar map out what YouTube’s top videos from 2013 say about how the next generation of viewers and content providers are branding themselves and engaging each other.

  • 01 /09 | Top Trending Video: What Does the Fox Say?

    Impacting mainstream media. This video from a Norwegian TV comedy duo Ylvis pulled over 250 million views, prompting parodies on broadcast TV shows, like Dancing with the Stars and Saturday Night Live.

  • 02 /09 | Top Trending Music Video: Gentlemen M/V

    Building on the brand. With this video, K-pop king Psy set a record for most views in a single day--over 30 million--by tapping his existing audience from last year’s top music video, Gangnam Style.

  • 03 /09 | Biggest Video Meme: Harlem Shake

    Interactive response. Some 1.7 million Harlem Shake videos garnered over 2.5 billion views. This Norwegian Army version was YouTube's #2 Top Trending Video with more than 96 million views, while the Miami Heat’s take earned YouTube's Top Trending Sports Video spot with nearly 47 million.

  • 04 /09 | Channel with the most new subscribers: PewDiePie

    International flair. Streaming weirdness from Swedish import PewDiePie (aka Felix Kjellberg) drew more than 18 million subscribers. Given YouTube’s international reach, it shouldn’t surprise that the Top Trending Beauty and Fashion Tutorial wasn’t even in English.

  • 05 /09 | Top Trending News Video: Russian meteor explosion

    End of the World. Compilation video of the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion that stirred panic in the country’s Urals region garnered more than 38 million views. Nothing like an attempted Armageddon to wrest viewers from the Harlem Shake.

  • 06 /09 | Top Trending Comedy Video: How Animals Eat Their Food

    Be Yourself. This is an example of the growing sophistication of YouTube contributors as they gauge what works. Through steady production of YouTube videos, two filmmaking majors known as Mr.EpicMann grew a small following of 35,000 subscribers to more than 3 million. On YouTube, “people like you much more when you act like yourself,” they note on their site. Likewise, British radio newbie Chris Stark found viral success--and a new career interviewing celebrities--after a charmingly awkward interview with Mila Kunis.

  • 07 /09 | Top Trending Parody: Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball

    Interactive Response #2. Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball might have pulled the #2 Top Trending Music Video spot, but Chatroulette’s Wrecking Ball landed as the Top Trending Parody. Interactive dialogues between star and audience are becoming crucial for viral success.

  • 08 /09 | Top Trending Geek Videos: Space Oddity

    Science Ruled. This Space Oddity cover by former International Space Station commander Chris Hadfield garnered more than 19 million views. “People don’t realize how popular and heavily shared science videos are,” says Allocca. “This video was an incredible way to use social media to open the conversation about space exploration.” YouTube's Top Trending Education Video, AsapSCIENCE’s Which Came First - The Chicken or the Egg?, was also science-themed.

  • 09 /09 | Top Trending Prank Video: Anniversary Prank Backfires

    Major Mistrust. The prankster gets pranked--to the tune of 40 million views. Except the prank universe put our collective guard up. “From this to Jimmy Kimmel's Worst Twerk Fail Ever - Girl Catches Fire video, it seems almost every major stunt, prank, or joke video was accompanied by a debate about authenticity,” says Lazar.

YouTube and its viewers are growing up—together.

A 2013 round-up of the online network’s top videos reveal a more focused attempt by creators to appeal to their constituents. Viewers are more actively responding to creators and content with parodies and videos of their own.

With 80% of YouTube viewers outside of the U.S., the creative well and viewing trends have taken on a global flavor and, by sheer audience size, spilled over into mainstream media in the process.

"This year, you really started to see how video phenomena impacted and shaped broader mainstream culture," says Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s head of culture and trend.

Top videos often share certain traits. "They’re unexpected and unique, and they’re things we can participate in, like making our own version of the Harlem Shake or a Miley Cyrus Wrecking Ball parody," adds Allocca. "You’re seeing top videos from professionals, channels, and seasoned individuals who are producing at a regular pace, actively trying to make things engaging and informative, and building on an existing fan base."

Audience interaction is becoming increasingly important. "Content success isn’t just in the hands of the original creator, but the fan whose reactions and creations around it lead to greater pickup," says Shira Lazar, host and executive producer of the YouTube show What’s Trending. "YouTube is a place where brands and individuals are engaging with communities.

"You’re seeing the beginnings of the next generation of media brands," adds Lazar. "These are individuals who are connecting with a generation that is not engaging in traditional media. They’re building powerful audiences and communities—not just on YouTube, but on Twitter, Instagram, their own dot-coms and apps, and then using those platforms to build bigger businesses."

Click on the slide show for YouTube's top videos and how they reflect audience behavior.