Dana Macke
Dana is the Associate Director of the Lifestyles & Leisure team at Mintel, with a focus on family research. Her background in marketing strategy helps her generate insights based on market developments, consumer data, and cultural trends.

Several new streaming video services are launching in 2019, including options from brands such as Disney, Apple and Warner Media. The recently announced Disney+ includes an abundance of beloved family content from Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars properties, posing an enormous threat to YouTube Kids. Content moderation will need to be front and center for YouTube Kids to make it through the intensifying streaming media wars.

The first YouTube fans now rely on YouTube Kids

The teens and tweens that launched YouTube from an internet start-up in 2005 to the media powerhouse it is today are now becoming parents themselves, and are reckoning with how to manage screen time for their kids in an age when YouTube content has expanded exponentially.

As of 2019, three in 10 adults say they visit YouTube multiple times a day (per Mintel’s social media tracker). While YouTube reports that one billion hours of video are watched on the site daily.

Kids are an essential part of this audience, as nearly seven in 10 parents say their kids under the age of 12 regularly watch YouTube videos. Three in 10 parents say their kids watch these videos alone – meaning parents can be unaware of the content and ads their kids are being served according to Mintel research on lifestyles of young families. But, parents might be pulling back on their reliance on YouTube as reports of inappropriate content surface.

YouTube puts the burden of moderation on parents

When asked what worries them about their kids using technology, one of parents’ top concerns was inappropriate content. In 2015, Google launched a family-focused version of YouTube: YouTube Kids. Google touted the app as a safer and easier way for children to explore YouTube. Two years later, The New York Times reported that inappropriate content could slip past the filters on YouTube Kids, including videos of animated characters involved in sexual or violent situations. The following year, Business Insider reported that YouTube Kids was recommending conspiracy theory videos to its young viewers, for example, videos claiming the world is flat. Later in 2018, Wired reported the platform was still flooded with disturbing videos.

As a response, Google introduced new parental controls on YouTube Kids in April 2018 that allow parents to select “trusted channels” and handpick verified videos for their kids to watch. This update improves parents’ options for moderating content, but the responsibility for finding and approving content for kids falls on parents’ shoulders. As Mintel research indicates, content moderation, curation, and parental controls are critical functions a streaming site needs to include to win over parents. However, parents may find it easier to simply switch over to another content provider, such as Netflix, where they won’t have to contend with questionable user generated content.

YouTube faces increased competition from streaming market

Several streaming services are jumping into an already crowded market this year. Disney+, Apple TV+, and a Warner Media streaming service will join Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video in the streaming media space in 2019. This will give parents a broader variety of professional kids’ programming to choose from at a relatively low price point. Disney has announced that the monthly subscription price for Disney+ will be much lower than Netflix at $6.99. As an abundance of kids’ content floods the market, YouTube Kids will have to up its game to stay competitive. Four tactics can improve its chances:

  • Improve content moderation: YouTube Kids explicitly states their content moderation is automated and they can’t manually review all the videos they serve. Without better moderation, parents may always feel like they’re taking a chance letting kids explore the app on their own. Improved content moderation can make YouTube Kids an easier choice for parents.
  • Provide excellent curation: At the very least, parents should be able to circumvent questionable content by selecting from curated playlists that are developed by experts at YouTube. This isn’t just about the safety of the content; it’s about providing kids a good mix of educational and entertaining programming that’s age appropriate.
  • Narrow the age profiles: The current age profiles on YouTube Kids are “younger” for kids under age 8 and “older” for kids 8-12. The app store states YouTube Kids is appropriate for kids aged 4+, but the current user profiles are much older and encompass very broad age groups. These profiles need to be narrower to be useful.
  • Leverage Google Stadia: One of the most anticipated product launches this year is Google’s streaming video game service, Stadia. YouTube Kids may not be able to compete with something like Disney+ in terms of high quality kids’ video content, but it may have a leg up on the competition in the gaming space. Kids are more likely than adults to follow gamers on the platform, making this an important tool to differentiate from the competition in a crowded marketplace.

What we think

If YouTube Kids fails to adapt, it may see cautious parents flock to one of the many other streaming media services at their disposal over the next five years.

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