When YouTube Kids launched in 2015, media buyers were intrigued by the opportunity to advertise to kids in a safe environment. Four years later, even with the scandal of violent Elsa, advertisers within the kids’ demo are still putting ad dollars behind YouTube Kids.
A brand exec who buys ads on YouTube Kids said the platform allows kid-focused clients to reach the right audience safely online since children can’t be on social networks. YouTube Kids is not bucketed in the social budgets since it doesn’t have a community or comments, the executive said.
“Advertising on YouTube comes with trade-offs, scale versus kids. Kids and social don’t really mix. Kids are either not on social platforms or they’re not supposed to be on social platforms,” the executive said.
Indeed, kids love YouTube. But they aren’t supposed to be there. As one media executive said, “On [regular] YouTube, if you’re under 13, you don’t exist. You probably don’t have your own account. You’re watching on your parents’. But the amount of kids’ usage of main YouTube is vastly, dramatically under-reported.”
YouTube Kids was YouTube’s way of serving that audience while obeying the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). YouTube Kids was YouTube’s attempt to build a platform designed for children as opposed to assuming that all users were over 13, said Dylan Collins, CEO of SuperAwesome, a company that focused on kid-safe tools and technology.
“The challenge faced by YouTube and a lot of the older technology platforms is they were simply not designed to accommodate the sheer volume of children using the internet today,” Collins said. “Google is an incredibly successful business engine that is entirely based on one type of internet user, an adult. Adapting this model to children requires them to do the opposite of everything they’ve scaled, going from maximum data to zero data, which is really difficult to do.”
At launch, YouTube Kids would include content specifically intended for children and be supported by age-appropriate ads. As Bloomberg reported in June, YouTube considered making YouTube Kids completely curated and subscription-only but opted for algorithmically sorted and supported by advertising. Unsurprisingly, scandals emerged due to YouTube’s unwillingness to vet all of the videos. In October 2017, Mashable revealed the unsafe, even violent, content that appeared on YouTube Kids.
In the wake of those reports, YouTube said it’s worked to curb the problem by introducing more curation and parental control. But YouTube’s systems aren’t foolproof, as it described in a blog introducing new parental controls on YouTube Kids: “We work hard to make videos in the app family-friendly, but no system is perfect.” Last month, the Federal Trade Commission reportedly agreed on a multimillion-dollar settlement with YouTube due to COPPA violations. YouTube declined to comment on the FTC settlement.
Still, advertisers have remained on YouTube Kids. The app has 20 million weekly users, according to a YouTube spokesperson. Paramount’s “Dora Lost City of Gold” has been advertising on YouTube Kids through an exclusive sponsorship of Dodo Kids, a new children’s programming division from Group Nine Media’s The Dodo. Dodo Kids’ videos appear on both YouTube and YouTube Kids and in tandem so do the ads for the new “Dora” movie.
Of course, the ad inventory available to YouTube Kids is limited. An ad executive at a holding company said they focus more on making sure their clients aren’t delivering to kids through YouTube’s main app.
“The best reason to segregate YouTube viewers into kids and non-kids is because more and more of our advertisers are looking to avoid delivering to children. With the ICO, U.K. government watchdog, some of our clients have been cited for certain types of ads, parents letting kids watch things that they shouldn’t. The only kids advertising we might do is co-viewing,” the executive said.
Though YouTube cannot acknowledge kids on the main site, there is the possibility of co-viewing by families. Andrea Ching, CMO of OpenSlate, a video analytics company that has worked with YouTube on brand safety, said she “didn’t believe co-viewing is a real thing when you’re dealing with the small screens of phones and tablets. Our experience is that advertisers targeting adults want to avoid content that’s obviously programmed for children as best they can.”
Yet there’s irony in advertisers’ desire to avoid targeting kids. For those who are so committed to brand safety, the most brand-safe channels tend to be kids content.
“The more you care about brand safety and suitability, the more it’s going to push you into kids content because there’s no profanity. Audience [data] tells you that it’s adult, but the content tells you that it’s kids,” said the media executive.