On June 23, 2016, the UK narrowly but decisively voted to leave the European Union. The United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU has had an unprecedented effect on the country, leaving the main political parties to implode in on themselves, while a third, the loudest squeaky wheel that called for a referendum on EU membership, is still floundering without a leader. While the rest of the world grabbed a bag of popcorn and sat back to watch the soap opera that is the state of UK politics, the Pound plummeted to a 30-year low, and pundits ruminated on what the decision meant for global political and trade agreements.
But how did the Battle of Brexit play out in online video? With a little help from the folks at Tubular Labs, here are some insights on digital video’s impact on the Brexit outcome:
Brexit Video Views Peaked AFTER the Vote
As this first chart clearly shows, Brexit video coverage, and views, occurred primarily after the vote was taken, with the majority of views (64.7M) generated via videos posted natively to Facebook.
While the Yanks Could Watch, only Brits Could Vote
Based on Tubular's YouTube’s Audience Insights data, only 37% of the people who watched Brexit-related videos were located in the UK. Another 23% who watched Brexit videos were located in the US, despite the fact that they couldn’t vote in the referendum. It’s also worth noting that younger men were the primary demographic viewing #Brexit coverage. In fact, two-thirds of the viewers were men aged 18-34.
John Oliver: Most Popular Brexit Video
As the Tubular data below shows, HBO’s Last Week Tonight produced the most popular Brexit video uploaded between January 1 and July 6 – taking the top spot in both views and engagements out of the 62,300 videos uploaded to the major video platforms.
However, only 15% of John Oliver’s audience is located in the UK, so any effect of HBO’s Last Week Tonight show was limited.
Only 13% of the views, 22% of the uploads, and 18% of the engagements of Brexit-related videos occurred in the two weeks before the UK’s EU referendum, compared to the two weeks after the vote was taken.
Where Could you Find Brexit Videos Before the Vote?
In the days leading up to the vote, the top 3 channels on the topic of Brexit were the official campaigns on both sides, Leave.EU and Britain Stronger In Europe, and HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Although Oliver is an English comedian, political commentator, television host, and occasional actor, Last Week Tonight is a late-night news satire program on HBO in the US, and on Sky Atlantic in the UK.
A total of 7,288 accounts uploaded videos about Brexit between January 1 and June 22, 2016, across the major video platforms. As the chart below shows, Leave.EU was the most watched single channel (14.4 million views), but Britain Stronger In Europe had more overall views (16 million combined Facebook and YouTube).
What Can we Learn from Brexit Coverage?
First, no one should have been shocked by the results of a race that was too close to call in the days leading up to the vote. Being ahead 48% to 46% with 6% still undecided isn’t a comfortable lead in any representative democracy. And the 48% to 52% outcome isn’t an indictment of digital democracy.
According to The Guardian, more than 75% of 18 to 24 year olds voted to remain in the EU. As Ooyala’s “State of the Media Industry 2016” recently reported, Millennials get their news through a mix of digital publications and social media feeds. But, it was older voters – who still comprise two-thirds of newspaper audiences – who were far more likely to vote to leave.
Second, in any close election, the outcome is going to depend on your digital video strategy and tactics. If you focus on YouTube because that shaped the outcome of the UK general election back in 2010, then you have no one to blame but yourself if the biggest battle during the Brexit campaign in 2016 was being fought on Facebook. The digital video landscape has shifted fairly dramatically in the past 18 months. The data has been publicly available. “Fighting the last war” has been a losing strategy for almost 80 years. And getting fewer viewers in May than you got in April is the result of a series of tactical blunders. Every campaign should pick up momentum as you get closer to voting day. If it doesn’t, then you need to create more content that’s tailored to more segments publish it on more platforms.
Third, media companies in representative democracies need to rethink the role they play in digital democracies. The fact that an English comedian, political commentator, television host, and occasional actor created the most popular video about Brexit uploaded before the referendum is an indictment of the video content being created by news organizations, particularly UK-based publishers. Creating compelling and engaging video content before the vote may be a calculated risk, but waiting until after the referendum to explain what was at stake is an unforgiveable dereliction of duty.