Outreach:
from blogger to YouTuber

For around ten years, science blogs were multiplying on the web. In particular, science communication blogs. But recently a new phenomenon has exploded with the arrival of science YouTube personalities, more commonly referred to as YouTubers. We take a look at this shift in science communication online.

The year 2014 seems to have been the pivotal year for tipping the scales from written to audiovisual web content. Over the last three years, the number of science YouTube channels have increased dramatically. At the same time certain blogs, which were part of the landscape of the web have now disappeared. Alexandre Moatti (a famous French science communicator) stopped publishing new items on his blog, maths-et-physique.net, in 2014 for example. He preferred to start his own YouTube channel, CultureGnum, in October 2016.

Why such a frenzy for video-making? And what will this new science communication media, found at the interface between TV and blogging, become?

Big players in web-videos

The profiles of the types of people involved in this new style of science communication are varied, but they all share the same passion: transmission of their knowledge. A study carried out in 2016 by Tani Louis, herself a YouTuber (Biologie Tout Compris), provides extensive information collected on video-making communicators from all disciplines. From her study, she found that three-quarters of the channels out there have existed for less than two years; half have less than 1 000 views; three-quarters are between 18 and 35 years old; and 50% don’t have a stable job.

In terms of the revenues generated, half of the video-makers foot the bill for their channel from their own pocket, whilst the others are able to subsidise themselves by monetising their channel (earning 60-80 cents per 1 000 views) or via crowdfunding such as Tipee. Let’s take the example of one of the rare video communicators who earns a living from his channel, Léo Grasset, the creator of Dirty Biology. In February 2017, 3 years after it started, his channel has over 430 000 subscribers and 20 million views. He also earns donations via Tipee and during the good months he manages to maintain a comfortable financial situation – equivalent to minimum wage! In summary, science YouTubers work for the glory.

The biggest French-speaking channels

And glory, there is! There are several stars who can be found within the vlogosphere. The French channel Tronche en Biais even won the Diderot prize, which awards projects involving public engagement in science, technology and industry.

Let’s start with the joint platform of Vidéosciences. It was created by Pierre Kerner, who sought out bloggers one by one to contribute to his platform. The video-makers were all of scientific backgrounds, generally PhD students or researchers without any particular training in communication. They started out on their adventure compensating for their lack of technical skills with their pronounced taste for transmission of science. Today, the number of video-makers wanting to join the platform is so high that the subjects are now submitted to a peer-review process (called peer-viewing). The authenticity of the knowledge being transmitted must not be contested.

The success? Undeniable! More than 50 million views for Bruce Benamran’s channel, e-Penser alone. He is particularly famous in the eyes of the general public thanks to the sales of his books of the which the first, Prenez le temps d’e-penser, sold more than 80 000 copies. As a pioneer, he set up his channel in 2013 at a time when the only science YouTube channels were in English: Veritasium, Minute Physics, Vsauce… Bruce, an IT engineer, noticed that there was a lack of this type of channel in France and decided to change that.

An audience on the younger side

It seems that video science communicators are particularly different to bloggers. They are notably younger. Five years ago, children talked about TV programmes in the playground. Today, they are talking about YouTubers. The public watching science videos are in the age bracket of 18-40. Balade Mentale estimates that this age bracket represents 80% of his public; the remaining viewers are 10% 13-17-year olds and 10% over 40. The communicators who target a science knowledge level of an A-level student seem satisfied.

In terms of the format, short videos work the best. If the video is anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes, it’s already too long.

A phenomenon pushing a trend

The success of these YouTubers can be observed better than it can be explained. Science communication, which in itself happens orally, is on the rise and this video media is following the same trend. But to know what works, we can only experiment. For example, a video has more views when the presenter is looking straight into the camera. The videos that serve simply as imagery with a voiceover are watched much less.

Balade Mentale tried to release Migrator, vidéo dont vous êtes le héros. The concept is simple: you are an Arctic Tern and, depending on your choices, the video takes you on different paths. This format, which works wonders in exhibitions, hasn’t managed to take off (yet?) on YouTube.

Are blogs on their way out?

The vlog has the wind in its sails, it’s enticing and seen as entertainment. You can no longer escape video content online. The proof is that YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world after Google. We maybe shouldn’t bury the blog too quickly, though. A video, once saved, can no longer be modified, whilst the pages of a blog can be re-read and improved. The financial investment is also a lot less for a blog. It’s for these reasons that bloggers haven’t had their last words yet.

Le Café des Sciences (and its little brother Strip Science), Science Etonnante, Ramène ta Science and Alterscience have not seen a drop in the number of visits to their blogs. YouTubers have a tendency to obtain a new public. David Louapre mentioned this to be the case in an interview with Science de Comptoir. QWhen he wants to go into more detail about the subject discussed in one of his videos, he does it on his blog Science Etonnante. The two methods – blog and video – are complementary, according to him. Nevertheless, vlogging is a real phenomenon today; a true revolution.

If you want to set yourself off on an adventure, you will find some good advice here. But watch out, the YouTubers interviewed all said that 15 minutes of video requires 10 hours of preparation, 1 hour of shoot and around 20 hours of editing. Don’t miss our article about humour to give you some tips for your videos!

Don’t forget to check out Agent Majeur’s YouTube channel!

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> Popularising science

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