As Bob Dylan famously sang, “the times, they are a-changin’,” and when it comes to kids and family content on YouTube, the changes start now.
This week, Google’s YouTube division came to a $170 million settlement agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over allegations that the streaming video giant violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) in how it dealt with kids’ content and consumption on its platforms. The debate is not a new one, and YouTube has a long history of standing behind its claim that its primary platform is not designed for use by children under age 13, but for many — including players in the toy industry — YouTube has become the most widely used platform to connect with an audience. Concerns over safety and privacy have surfaced on a regular basis in recent years, all of which have led to a constant revamp in policies geared toward content creators, including the development, launch, and subsequent revamp of the YouTube Kids app and website.
Despite this, the FTC believes that COPPA violations took place regarding how YouTube was handling the data of users under the age of 13, and how it was tracking said users and serving them targeted advertising.
In an email sent to YouTube creators and obtained by the Toy Book, YouTube announced sweeping changes to how it handles data collection use on kids’ content. The company says “these changes will address concerns raised by the FTC regarding compliance with COPPA,” and although this is a U.S. law, the company is making changes to its practices globally. The email (pictured left) provides an overview of the forthcoming changes as they relate to content creators and publishers. Among the changes, YouTube will require creators to self-identify content geared toward kids, and its internal AI will soon be put to work on the rest. “We’ll also use machine learning to help us identify videos that clearly target young audiences, such as those that have an emphasis on kid’s characters, themes, toys, or games,” the company says.
On its official blog, YouTube goes a bit deeper.
Beginning Jan. 1, all data collected on videos deemed to be kids’ content will be treated as if it’s coming from a user under the age of 13 regardless of the viewer’s age. Comments and notifications will be turned off on much of the content — something that’s already happened in some cases. Above all, YouTube still recommends that kids under the age of 13 use the YouTube Kids app, though as many parents are well aware, the difference in experience can prompt pushback from kids themselves.
One area of concern for many creators outside of pure revenue loss due to advertising is that their content simply isn’t available on YouTube Kids, or it is, but is difficult to find despite being “kid-friendly.” In previous waves of YouTube “cleanup,” kid-safe videos have been falsely flagged as being for users over 13.
To mitigate some of the financial loss that kids and family creators will suffer under the new policies, YouTube is establishing a $100 million fund to be disbursed over three years “dedicated to the creation of thoughtful, original children’s content on YouTube and YouTube Kids globally.” The exact type of content, the production value needed, and other requirements to benefit from the fund have yet to be announced.
For both content creators and the toy industry as a whole, this could be viewed as a time of opportunity.
In our February 2019 feature, Beyond YouTube: Playing it Safe with the Future of Video and Toys, we spoke with some experts in the field about best practices for connecting with kids without being a hard sell, and by valuing quality content over basic metrics, such as clicks and views. We also covered the growing Over-the-Top (OTT) market that’s been booming this year, in which companies are utilizing safe, COPPA-compliant platforms to provide quality content that’s presented in a user-friendly format that kids and families can enjoy together using Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, and more. In fact, more are on the way, including Super Awesome’s new Rukkaz platform which is being built specifically to connect kids and family creators with an audience of kids ages 7-12.
Yes, the digital times are a-changin’, but the streaming world isn’t coming to an end — it’s just evolving again.