Sorry, Netflix and Hulu: YouTube is the top spot to watch TV online

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YouTube is the most popular source for online TV, with Netflix coming in second and Hulu third. That’s the conclusion of a 2,400-person survey conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates, one of broadcast television’s most respected consulting firms. The survey was conducted in June 2014, with the results being released to CNET on Monday.

The numbers: Magid asked 2,400 people to check off a list of websites that they use to watch online TV. Thirty-eight percent checked YouTube, followed by 33 percent for Netflix. Hulu came in at distant third with 17 percent, and Amazon Prime was checked off by 14 percent.

At the same time, Magid’s research shows that 32 percent of Americans watch online TV daily. That’s up 10 percent from two years ago. (Just the fact that Magid, a stalwart of conventional TV broadcasting, is researching online TV shouts volumes to how much this medium has grown—and gained business credibility.)

At face value, Magid’s research would indicate that YouTube has gained real traction with viewers, and not just for short, viral videos shared on Facebook.

“The joke in the industry is it’s all babies burping and cats meowing, and maybe YouTube was that,” said Mike Vorhaus, president of Magid Advisors, in an interview with CNET. “When they actually go and use it, people are surprised by the breadth of content that’s there.”

At the same time, YouTube’s numbers are likely helped by its strong presence on Facebook, a social media beachhead that Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime do not really share. As well, the face that YouTube is free—with advertising—helps. Netflix and Amazon Prime are not free. Hulu has a free tier, but lacks YouTube’s massive popularity.

Add in online movie watching, however, and the numbers change a bit. Here, Netflix got 35 percent of the vote from people Magid polled, while YouTube only got 24 percent. Still, YouTube finished ahead of Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO GO for online movie viewing.

The bottom line: “If you think of these services as brands, the brand of YouTube has the most people,” Mike Vorhaus declared. “The big message I get is that people have changed their brand perception of YouTube.”

Maybe so. Nevertheless, YouTube’s proven popularity doesn’t mean that putting any kind of videos on YouTube is a slam-dunk for going viral: Quality, content and cute kittens still count.

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