Joe Wicks tops YouTube list of most popular UK videos in 2020

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Personal trainer’s frontroom-friendly workouts make him nation’s favourite during coronavirus

Joe Wicks’ leading one of his online PE lessons
The first day of Joe Wicks’ ‘PE with Joe’ was watched by 7.2 million viewers. Photograph: The Body Coach via Getty Images
The first day of Joe Wicks’ ‘PE with Joe’ was watched by 7.2 million viewers. Photograph: The Body Coach via Getty Images

Last modified on Mon 14 Dec 2020 14.46 EST

In a year of seismic change, Britain turned to a new national figurehead for answers.

He has curly hair, six-pack abs, and 2.6 million subscribers on YouTube. And according to year-end data released on Monday, one of Joe Wicks’ livestreamed PE classes was the single most popular UK video in the time of coronavirus.

According to YouTube’s first global culture and trends report, the personal trainer – whose frontroom-friendly workout videos for children became a phenomenon during the first national lockdown and have remained a staple ever since – was responsible for the most-viewed video of 2020 outside of music videos and trailers.

With 7.2 million viewers, day one of “PE With Joe” headed a top 10 that also included Phillip Schofield coming out on This Morning, Bayern Munich’s astonishing drubbing of Barcelona, and a group of influencers playing rock, paper, scissors.

Roya Zeitoune, YouTube’s head of culture and trends in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the Wicks supremacy was part of a wider international trend to take hold during lockdown – of self-improvement, shared experiences, and activities for a housebound planet.

“Normally, things are very specific to territories,” she said. “What’s been really intriguing this year is that the same content trends have happened all around the world as countries have arrived at different parts of the coronavirus journey. Wherever people had a lockdown imposed on them, they’d be like: OK, I’m gonna start learning something new.”

Wicks’ popularity, Zeitoune suggested, was to do with a sense of “everybody wanting to have control over some aspect of their life, when everything felt like on a macro level it was unwieldy and scary”.

The trainer, who received an MBE in October, has said his videos’ success “will always be one of my most proudest achievements”.

There were corresponding booms in searches for cookery, home improvement, gardening, and – in the aftermath of the runaway success of Netflix drama The Queen’s Gambit – chess.

Searches for videos with some variant of the word “beginner” in their title rose by 50% on 2019to 9bn. Accompanying research by Ipsos found that 78% of YouTube users sought out educational content this year.

There were more problematic changes in searches, with spikes in those based on coronavirus conspiracies and disinformation at the beginning of the year – a trend Zeitoune said weakened as people became better informed as the year continued.

With so many furloughed or having their employment transformed, a new batch of creators far removed from the teen idols that have previously been the norm emerged – such as Jay Flynn, who created the eponymous Jay’s Virtual Pub Quiz for a local audience and found himself with nearly 700,000 watching the first episode.

“I don’t know how it’s ended up like this … I’m trying not to shake with the sheer volume of people,” he said, before embarking on a quiz that began with a question about the largest internal organ in the human body.

That change in the content viewers consumed was matched by a transformation in how they accessed it – with an audience that previously spiked at typical leisure moments such as lunchtime and the early evening now dispersed more broadly across the day.

“Everyone’s doing things at random times,” said Zeitoune. “And this loss of a sense of routine or structure means that we’re seeing much more access through the night, and people searching for how to get to sleep.”

The top 10 videos in UK

1. The Body Coach (UK): PE with Joe, Monday 23 March 2020

2. Sidemen (UK): Sidemen Reunited Mukbang

3. This Morning (UK): Phillip Schofield opens up about being gay, This Morning

4. NikkieTutorials (NL): I’m Coming Out

5. WillNE (UK): Making YouTubers Sing All Star – Smash Mouth Without Realising

6. Sky Sports Boxing (UK): Full Fight! Jake Paul vs AnEsonGib

7. MrBeast (US): $250,000 Influencer Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament

8. Britain’s Got Talent (UK): Golden Buzzer! Sign Along With Us Put on the Greatest Show in Emotional Audition, BGT 2020

9. BT Sport (UK): Barcelona v Bayern Munich (2-8), Uefa Champions League highlights

10. JeffreeStar (US): We Broke Up