The YouTube Kids app launches today in the US for Android and for iOS devices, and the company intends to roll it out elsewhere in the future. The app will be free and funded by advertising, although YouTube says it will be carefully screening ads to ensure they are appropriate for children.
“Parents have been asking us for years to build a friendlier version of YouTube for families,” product manager Shimrit Ben-Yair told the Guardian, citing data showing that while YouTube’s overall viewing time grew by 50% in 2014, this rose to 200% for “family entertainment” content.
YouTube Kids groups videos into four categories: shows, music, learning and explore. Shows focuses on videos from familiar children’s TV brands like Sesame Street and Thomas and Friends; Music includes videos from nursery-rhyme channels like Mother Goose Club; and Learning gathers educational videos.
Explore, meanwhile, will collect videos from other children’s channels on YouTube, from Minecraft gamers like Stampy to cooking and loom-band tutorials. “All the content that kids know and love on YouTube is here,” said Ben-Yair.
The app’s four sections take the form of scrolling carousels of new videos, although there is also a search function that supports text or voice entry – the latter for younger children who aren’t yet reading and/or typing.
Children who search for terms like “sex” will not find any videos, but instead will be presented with a message encouraging them to search for something else. Parents will be able to disable the search function, and set limits on the amount of time children can use the app for.
“Kids are excellent negotiators, so we always want to arm parents with more tools to help in this ongoing battle of wills!” said Ben-Yair. “The timer lets this app be the bad guy, with parents setting it to how little or much they prefer.”
Given its parent company – Google – YouTube will inevitably face scrutiny over how it plans to make money from the YouTube kids app, and what data it will be collecting from usage of it.
Ben-Yair confirmed that there will be ads. “It was really important for us to make the app free and available to everyone, therefore it’s ad-supported,” she said. “We are taking a similar approach with the ads as with the content: narrowing it to what is family-friendly.”
The app’s “logged-out” nature means the selection of videos will not be customised according to children’s viewing habits, unlike the full YouTube service. Ben-Yair suggested that such recommendations could be added “in the longer term” but stressed that YouTube will be guided by children’s privacy and marketing laws in its development of the app.
In its first country, the US, the app is already operating under the strict COPPA [Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act] legislation regarding the “individually identifiable information” that can be collected by internet services on children aged under 13.
In part, YouTube Kids is a response to the huge number of children already watching videos on the main YouTube service, where they may encounter inappropriate videos and ads.
How big is that audience? Ben-Yair told the Guardian that “family entertainment” videos are currently being watched for “millions” of hours every day on YouTube.
In the UK, meanwhile, communications regulator Ofcom’s latest research suggests that more than half of 8-11 year-olds and three quarters of 12-15 year-olds watch YouTube, with a growing proportion of them saying they prefer YouTube to traditional TV.
These habits are why children’s channels are some of the most popular on YouTube. Toy-unboxing channel DC Toys Collector was the service’s second biggest channel in 2014, watched 3.2bn times that year, while child-friendly Minecraft gamer Stampy was the fourth biggest with 2.2bn views.
Toys, Minecraft, animation and music are the key video categories being watched by kids on YouTube, with other popular channels including The Diamond Minecart (1.6bn views in 2014), Blu Toys (1.5bn), Masha and the Bear (1.4bn), and Disney Car Toys (1.4bn).
As a comparison, all the channels listed above were more popular in 2014 than the official channels of One Direction, Rihanna and Justin Bieber, to name just three traditional stars who also have big fanbases on YouTube.
The launch of YouTube Kids is likely to spark more new channels aimed at children. Games network Rooster Teeth has already launched a Game Kids spin-off, while Stampy is preparing to launch a second channel focused on education.
In the meantime, Google is planning to launch more services for children, according to a blog post by Ben-Yair and vice president of engineering Pavni Diwanji. “This is just our first step – we’ll keep tinkering and hope to have more great products for your family soon,” they wrote.
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Monday 23rd February 2015 15.14 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010