Video: Its role at the ONS

Our YouTube channel was home to 290 videos and 1,834 subscribers.

The channel went live in November 2010 following an idea in our Labour Market Division to explore video as a new format to connect with users. Over time, more statistics producers within the ONS followed.

ONS YouTube Channel screenshot

The videos had been produced in different parts of the Office, using various techniques:

  • Most were created by screen-recording PowerPoint-style presentations and adding a layer of audio commentary.
    Screenshot of Powerpoint style YouTube video
  • As part of a drive to professionalise our video content, an experiment with ‘what good looks like’ in communicating statistics visually, Digital ONS  appointed a temporary video producer to make introductory videos about statistics (e.g. ‘what is inflation?’).
    Screenshot of proffessional YouTube video
  • ‘Headshot’-style interviews had been filmed using an iPhone and iMovie editing software.
    Screenshot of head shot style YouTube video

Reasons YouTube didn’t work for us

1: Lack of quality assurance

Producing video content is time and resource intensive. We have tight deadlines for producing our statistics, and the skills needed to produce great video content are in short supply.

We shared guidance internally and hosted ‘Writing for Broadcast’ courses to raise awareness of what is involved in video production, but ultimately professional skills in filming, editing and scriptwriting were needed in-house. The resource we had available was too limited to create enough of an offering across our statistical portfolio. We were still experimenting with video and there needed to be more clarity over  the role of video, our user needs and what formats would work best for our audience. Our video content continued to be experimental and ad-hoc – albeit better produced.

There was also a fundamental question about whether video is the best medium for communicating statistics. Video is increasingly being viewed on mobile devices, but little content on our YouTube channel was designed to look good on smaller screens. The graphics used to communicate data don’t scale well, resulting in a poor user experience.

2: Management of the YouTube Channel

Managing a successful YouTube channel requires committed management of search engine results, moderation of comments, maintaining the look and feel of the channel, editorial policy, content standards, analysis of metrics and accessibility/subtitling. As the channel had started as an experiment, the focus had been exclusively on video production and there was no attention to channel management.

Without a clear content strategy and evidence of value to users, we weren’t in a position to invest in the channel.

3: Impact

It was critical for us to evaluate the impact of the work on our users. YouTube attracts an international audience, who arrive by search and links from related content. Our general content  (e.g. ‘what is inflation?’) was not unique enough, or best in breed, so was not getting enough visibility. Many organisations have done great videos about similar topics, making it difficult for users to find our content, and making us question whether our resource was best spent creating video that others could produce better than us. As GDS Design Principles say “Government should only do what only government can do”.

For example, 2 videos on YouTube about the housing market:

‘Positive Money’ ( – Video “Why house prices are so high? “

ONS video on “history of housing in last 100 years”

  • 0 dislikes

To compare YouTube video to other products we produce, the most popular video attracted 17,900 views in 2 years in contrast to an interactive generating over 250,000 views in 1 week. We decided to stop the YouTube experiment to focus our resource on the content formats our users want.

4: Our messages aren’t being heard

According to YouTube analytics, users get through around 50% of an ONS video (this is typically 2 minutes), which is in line with other content on YouTube.

Overall viewing figures for 2014 were down on the equivalent for 2013. As the video portfolio increases, this is not the kind of return you would expect from a successful channel.

5: Duplication

Many of the videos duplicate information contained in statistical publications elsewhere, in a less useful form.  In a recent ONS Customer Website survey it was clear users wanted to skim-read commentary and interact with data. Only 9% of respondents were interested in data being presented to them via video (as opposed to 58% for graphs and infographics, 59% for spreadsheets). We are serving ‘sit forward’ busy people and video is a ‘lean back’ aesthetic experience (i.e. not what they want or need).


We still think video will play a part in how we communicate statistics in the future and you can continue to catch up with our statisticians via the RSS YouTube channel

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3 comments on “Video: Its role at the ONS”

  1. I’m interested to know what broader communications activity you did to promote the video clips? For example – a media release or news story pushed out through other communication channels?

  2. Emily – we don’t really do media releases at ONS any more but the videos were promoted on wider social media, prominently linked from statistical bulletins, featured in email newsletters etc.

    In all of our feedback channels they were rated as least useful to our users and to be honest the production time to get anything close to looking professional was the wrong side of any cost/benefit analysis.

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