Google on Monday announced YouTube Kids, a new mobile app designed to deliver family-friendly video content.
In making a play for the tyke market, YouTube joins other streaming video providers like Amazon and Netflix.
The YouTube Kids app provides streaming content curated for families — everything from do-it-yourself arts and crafts and elementary geometry clips to rugrat favorites like the Mother Goose Club and Minecraft, as well as lots and lots of train videos.
Sporting a kids-friendly interface, the new app will be distributed in the United States for both Android and iOS devices. The interface is bright and colorful and has large buttons for easy poking.
It even has voice search — a definite plus for children just getting the hang of spelling or typing.
In addition, the free app includes parental controls. For example, there’s a timer to limit screen time a child may have with an app. Parents can turn off the sound for the app when they want their children to play quietly. They can turn off the search feature, too, to limit a child to preselected content on the home screen.
“What folks at Google have known for a while is that probably many young kids use YouTube, so this is an approach to making it more family-friendly,” said Alan Simpson, director of policy and communications of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition.
“I think an important part of that is going to be giving parents more tools and ways to observe and manage what their young kids are doing with YouTube,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Parents need to understand that a filtering app like YouTube Kids has its limitations, noted Luke Gilkerson, education resource manager for Covenant Eyes.
“The best way to deal with training kids to use the Internet properly is not a filtering-only mentality,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “If it’s only filtering, it will prevent things from popping up that shouldn’t be popping, but one of the best ways of training children about online behavior is having good conversations with your kids about where they’re going online and what they’re doing there.”
Family entertainment is a fast-growing segment for YouTube watchers.
Overall YouTube viewing time grew 50 percent in 2014, but family entertainment viewing grew 200 percent during the same period, Shimrit Ben-Yair, YouTube Kids group product manager, said in an interview.
While YouTube Kids is a free app, it will deliver targeted advertising to its users.
“For Google it’s always about eyes — trying to get the right eyes looking at the right products,” said Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst with Tirias Research.
“By creating this, they’re going to have very targeted advertising for the kids version of YouTube,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Advertising for YouTube Kids can pay dividends for Google, noted Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy.
“Advertisers are willing to pay more for identifiable audiences and this does just that,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Advertising targeted at kids comes with certain risks, noted David J. Shaw, an attorney with Kirton McConkie.
“There’s a different set of federal rules for ads that target kids versus apps that target adults,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“It’s a risk area — not just for Google, but for anyone offering kid apps,” Shaw added.
Risky or not, YouTube Kids could be a savvy business move.
“Young kids prefer watching video on mobile devices rather than traditional television,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. “I expect that to increase over time, so Google may be getting in on the ground floor with this new offering, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see advertising revenues ramp up pretty substantially as the service matures.”
Google also may be tapping into another trend with YouTube Kids, added John Carroll, mass communications professor at Boston University.
“This is very much part of a trend toward walled gardens on the Internet … environments where there’s control over what content is going to appear. Those environments are becoming more and more popular,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “YouTube is piggybacking on that trend as well.”