Is YouTube evolving into a competitive news outlet?

A new report released by the Pew Research Center suggests YouTube is evolving beyond its original model.

YouTube is home to a plethora of videos, from cats to political blunders and how-to guides. It enjoys 800 million unique visitors per month, and in 2011, the streaming site had more than 1 trillion views -- or around 140 views for every person on Earth.

Localized in 43 countries and across 60 languages, YouTube's global following makes it a force to be reckoned with. With such a strong base and user-generated content expanding from animation to learning and business, it seems reasonable that the potential of YouTube could be tapped in other areas.

youtube pew research news outlet

According to a new report released by the Pew Research Center as part of its Project for Excellence in Journalism, more and more visitors are turning to the website for news footage. "YouTube is becoming a major platform for viewing news," the report says.

In the 15 month period between January 2011 and March 2012, news-related terms topped search queries during five of the 15 months. The project tracked the most popular videos in the news & politics section, 260 different videos in all, and analyzed the nature of the video, the topic, who produced them and who posted them.

Among the key findings of the study, the most popular videos tended to depict natural disasters, political upheaval, and intense visuals. The majority of popular stories were international; unsurprising considering 70 percent of YouTube's traffic comes from outside of the United States. Footage containing the Japanese earthquake and tsunami was the most viewed -- 5 percent of all the 260 videos -- followed by elections in Russia at 5 percent, and unrest in the Middle East accounting for 4 percent of viewers.

Citizens were responsible for supplying and posting popular, on-the-ground footage. 39 percent of the most watched videos came from the general public. 51 percent contained the logo of a news outlet, but were often shot by users rather than journalists. The study also found that 39 percent of news pieces originally posted by news organizations were replicated by standard users.

The most popular videos were both edited -- 58 percent -- and raw news footage -- 42 percent -- but scenes rather than individuals claimed the most interest. No single individual claimed even 5 percent of the top videos studied.

In the popular videos that focused on public figures, President Barack Obama was the most popular, featuring in 4 percent of the top videos worldwide.

The report says:

"The data reveal that a complex, symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organizations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic "dialogue" many observers predicted would become the new journalism online."

Although it is very likely that viewership is outpaced on conventional television -- if you take the Japanese earthquake as an example -- YouTube is a place where consumers dictate the news they view, whether edited or raw. For the news and business industries, the website can be used as a place to grow their audience, find user-generated footage, and as an outlet to gain exposure for their brands.

It isn't just third-parties that can use this trend to advantage, however. YouTube recently announced that viewers in 64 territories within the Asia and regions of Sub-Saharan Africa -- including Singapore, Nigeria, India, Kenya, Malaysia, and Uganda -- would be able to watch HD streams of the Olympics live on YouTube. The channel will also feature a 24-hour "Olympic News" channel with updates, reports and results.