RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
YouTube offers a glimpse into our current tastes and interests. One big trend in 2013 was people spending more time watching videos about video games. Here's NPR's Laura Sydell to tell us more about that and other YouTube trends.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: In October, this guy had the most subscribed to channel on YouTube.
FELIX ARVID ULF KJELLBERG: How's it going, Res? My name's PewDiePie. Welcome to another episode of "Walking"...
SYDELL: PewDiePie is a 24-year-old Swedish gamer who records himself playing video games and commenting in English. Then he posts it on his YouTube channel. In this episode, PewDiePie is playing "Walking Dead."
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE WALKING DEAD" VIDEOGAME)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'm not going through this again.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No one's suggesting that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: We could take her arm off.
KJELLBERG: No. No. That ain't no happening, Saint.
SYDELL: PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, has over 18 million subscribers, that's more than pop stars Rihanna, who has 11.6 million, and Eminem, who's got a little over nine million.
KEVIN ALLOCCA: He is a guy who's basically your most fun friend to hang out and watch video games with.
SYDELL: Here's Kevin Allocca, head of Culture and Trends at YouTube. He's trying to explain PewDiePie's appeal. He points out how big a piece of pop culture games have become. For example, this fall, "Grand Theft Auto 5" grossed a billion dollars in its first three days on the market, making it the fastest selling entertainment property of all time. Yet video games don't get much love on traditional media.
ALLOCCA: Gaming culture and gaming events are very much a part of pop culture. But they aren't necessarily always thought of in the same way that we think about someone like Miley Cyrus.
SYDELL: Sam Barberie is an avid gamer and a YouTube user.
SAM BARBERIE: I'll go to YouTube for the sake of nostalgia to visit an old game that maybe I don't have anymore. But that I'll think how awesome was that "Zelda: Fire Temple," and I can cue it up and watch a few minutes of it.
SYDELL: You may be one of those people who are thinking: Oh, great - another way that YouTube has given us to waste time, as if cat videos weren't enough. Well, here's the good news. The number of people watching education videos on YouTube has surpassed cats; subscribers to education channels have gone up by three times. The most popular video came from AsapScience.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: As we grow older, we often lose the extreme ends of our hearing spectrum. So how many of the following sounds can you hear? How old are your ears?
SYDELL: It starts with the pitch everyone can hear. But trust me, as the video goes on, your ears show your age. This kind of pop science is growing in popularity, says YouTube's Kevin Allocca. Many like AsapScience are produced by real scientists - in that case Canadian biologists Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown - and many use animation.
ALLOCCA: We've seen a lot of these what we call Explainer Videos, right? These are short videos that take a concept and break it down in simple terms.
SYDELL: Alas, with 1.8 million subscribers, AsapScience doesn't have nearly as many subscribers as even Rihanna. But there is a lot more educational content coming online. And that includes entire courses from major universities, such as Stanford.
Phil Hill is an educational consultant with MindWires and he says video is a medium that is setting science free from the limits of textbooks.
PHIL HILL: Video is very natural to show, particularly physics and chemistry-based disciplines, to actually show these scientific phenomena.
SYDELL: Hill says many people in the education field have been surprised at how popular education videos are.
HILL: I'm not aware of anybody who's predicted how much interest would be drawn to this.
SYDELL: So as we head into 2014, Hill predicts that education videos are only going to get more popular - though he admits they may never be as popular as videos about game videos.
Laura Sydell, NPR News.