IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

YouTube thrives as a window for those isolated by coronavirus

But creators wonder whether ad revenue will follow a surge of views to their video channels.
Image: Tyler Hoover
Tyler Hoover says his YouTube channel, "Hoovies Garage," has been doing well in the time of self-isolation.Tyler Hoover

Tyler Hoover is known for buying the least expensive versions of some of the world's most exclusive cars. His used "hooptie fleet" includes a modern Rolls-Royce, an orange Lamborghini and a six-figure BMW that has been reduced to near-junkyard status by an engine part about the size of a fingertip.

His attempts at reviving neglected chariots on the cheap are riveting for his nearly 1 million YouTube subscribers. So when self-isolation started for much of the country in mid-March, his "Hoovies Garage" channel, like those of many video creators, saw an increase in viewership.

"We are doing better with the captive audience," Hoover, 32, said by email from his home in Wichita, Kansas.

Image: Tyler Hoover
Tyler Hoover shows off his exhaust in an episode of "Hoovies Garage" on YouTube.Tyler Hoover

Other creators agree: Lockdowns have created a boom time for online content.

YouTube says its data show more than 500 percent increases in views on March 15, compared to the daily average for rest of the year, for personal activity videos with the terms "at home" or #withme.

Videos on meditation (55 percent), cooking (100 percent) and working out (200 percent) also increased in mid-March compared to the same time last year, the platform said.

David Craig, a communications professor at the University of Southern California, and co-author of the book "Social Media Entertainment," says the isolation bump is being seen at other video sites and apps, with top creators "seeing their views and subscriptions going up 20 to 60 percent across all their platforms."

Fitness guru Gia Fey of Manhattan Beach, California, said business is booming on her BodyByGia YouTube channel (617,000 subscribers), as well as on her other platform pages.

"My views have gone up dramatically not only on YouTube but on every social platform -- on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok," she said by email. "On YouTube, views have gone up by about 40% and watch time (time spent watching) has gone up by as much as 50 percent."

Alex Alonso, a Chicano and Latino studies professor at Cal Sate Long Beach, has 272,000 subscribers on his "StreetTV" YouTube channel, where he often posts interviews with gang members and explains the history of their Southern California neighborhoods.

He says views have been higher than normal, and he believes that, despite the mass shutdown of retail stores, online shopping will keep ad dollars rolling in for YouTube creators.

"I believe we're going to see a spike in sales in online purchasing," Alonso, 49, said.

The Online Ad Revenue Index shows a slight dip throughout March, but Hoover said such revenue can also be seasonal, with the holidays traditionally producing the best results.

He's not complaining.

"I'm happy that I'm still able to work safely and within the rules," the car enthusiast said.

Image: Tyler Hoover
YouTuber Tyler Hoover, star of television's "Car Issues," says he'll only make videos inside his home garage during isolation.Tyler Hoover

Self-described "mom life" YouTuber Myka Stauffer (712,000 subscribers) said she doesn't expect a boost from isolated audiences because the wave of new viewers has prompted creators to make too many videos.

"With so many users watching YouTube and content creators trying to produce content, you end up with more content then can be consumed," the 32-year-old Ohioan said by email. "Some older videos have had a rediscovery with new views, but newly created content is not receiving as many initial views as prior."

Shoe care expert Preston Soto, 30, of San Diego, says views on both his YouTube channel (137,000 subscribers) and Instagram page (10,800 followers), both branded "The Elegant Oxford," quickly went up in March as people started to self-isolate.

He estimates revenue based on his videos could go up $1,000 this month, but it's too early to tell as payment lags by weeks.

"People are responding faster to videos, watching them as soon as they come out," he said. "People are watching older videos I've posted, too."

He thinks that isolated America is viewing his clips on shoe shining, dyeing and faux patina late at night. "I seem to get messages in the late evening," he says, "sometimes at 2 a.m."

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

While Soto can keep the cameras rolling because his channel usually just features himself indoors, Alonso of StreetTV says other creators might need to get extra creative as they isolate. "They have a fan base, a platform, they just have to figure out a way to keep the content coming," he said.

He's been limiting his own StreetTV interviews to one subject 6 feet away.

Hoover says he'll keep making videos but instead of his usual interaction with fellow gearheads, he'll stay inside his spacious garage.

"It's hard to create content this way, but leaving the house to make YouTube videos is far from being an essential activity," he said. "Monday was first day of the stay-at-home order in Kansas, and was (the) last day I ventured out to make content."