The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

YouTube Kids 

February saw internet giant YouTube launch a free children's App, offering TV shows, educational video and music in a safe "walled garden"...

Hannie Kirkham, CMF Newsletter Editor, reports.

KidsAppLogoThe YouTube app launched in the USA two weeks ago and first indications are that it’s a hit with parents and advocacy groups in the States. It’s designed to provide a safe environment for children to watch their favourite shows, listen to music and have a child-friendly version of the YouTube experience. The CMF has been calling for action by the big platforms like YouTube and Facebook to recognise they have kids in their user-base, and to use their software and parental controls to limit what they can come across in their browsing.  YouTube have taken the first steps.

Platforms like YouTube and other social media sites have for some time been a source of concern amongst parents about lack of awareness of their kids’ viewing habits. For many the Internet feels like an unregulated space where kids are only a few clicks away from, at best, disturbing content. And yet YouTube carries hundreds of thousands of hours of video of fascination, education and delight for kids of all ages. Parents want their children to be able to access the world’s information and to have fun while doing it. The social media site Vine announced a kids’ version a couple of month ago. Now YouTube is addressing the issues.

The App is aimed at younger children - certainly under 6s.  So there is more work to be done on thinking about how older children are finding their way through YouTube content. And the CMF will open a dialogue with YouTube in the UK on how that could be achieved.

The App is funded by advertising, but the ads served are all tagged as suitable for children. There is no login function, so no personal data is collected (a vital feature for YouTube as in many territories regulations are very restrictive when the users are children).  This means that the app can’t learn your personal preferences in the way grown-up YouTube does. But interestingly the app does work out your device’s preferences and over time will tailor the content offered to match that.

150219215550-youtube-for-kids-780x439At first it was thought that YouTube might go the way of Netflix and create a completely walled garden, with only pre-approved content allowed in – effectively a VOD “channel”.  In fact YouTube has put its not-insignificant computing power behind it – as CMF has been suggesting for some time – and they have emulated the open nature of the YouTube system. Anyone can start a channel and upload content intended to find its way into the Kids’ App, provided it is tagged clearly as child friendly, gets past the software that detects unsuitable language in the audio, and is not flagged as harmful by users and checked by YouTube’s 24 hour review team.

The App also comes equipped with ‘safety’ features. You can search the whole of YouTube, but certain terms, like ‘sex’, won’t pull any results. Parents can also turn off the search function, so that there is no browsing away from the recommended content. There’s a timer function which switches the App off after a parental set-time.

With broadcasters and producers already uploading their content to channels on YouTube, and more coming on stream now that the App is providing them with the safety zone they need, the new service is certainly YouTube making a bid for the family audience. But the App caters for far more than just mainstream TV. It also has a section for children’s music, educational content, and an area called “explore” which features many of the maker channels, YouTube stars etc. and their children's offering - no doubt of huge interest to lovers of Minecraft, loom-bands or toy un-boxing!

This is potentially a step change for the kids’ media industry, and certainly a big step forward for the youngest viewers. But there are more steps to take, as children of all ages should have access to quality entertainment and education… in safety.

So many digital platforms attract a kids’ audience, whether intended or not, and the CMF would like to see more research and development carried out to ensure children are both protected and at liberty to watch, play and listen to all the great content that’s out there.

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