The recently launched YouTube Kids app is getting a lot of heat from children’s advocacy groups accusing them they crossed the line over entertainment and stepped into the realm of advertising.
On Tuesday, they planned to report a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, asking them to open an investigation about whether YouTube kids’ program is drowning the young audiences into a great mass of undesired commercials.
In the short time since its release back in February, the app proved that it offers children not only an array of channels, most of which concentrate on entertainment and educational programs, but also a lot of branded content. McDonald’s, Hasbro and Mattel and various other corporate giants are using the app for their own purposes.
Many advocacy groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy and the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, have formed a legal coalition; they claim the app’s practices come against the federal laws established in the 1970s, which set healthy boundaries on advertisers targeting young children.
Those rules were instated on the grounds that kids are still during formation years and therefore can’t spot the difference between entertainment and commercials.
Advertising to children without their knowledge
Dale Kunkel is a professor at University of Arizona who specializes in children’s media and also helped write the FTC objection; he said that the YouTube Kids app is the cup that makes the cup run over, taking hyper-commercialization of children media to a whole new level.
He added that such practices are even more condemnable since children haven’t yet developed the sense of understanding the persuasive side of advertising.
Following the original format of YouTube app, commercials are monitored and provided by Silicon Valley giant Google. Paying advertisers can have their spots played before the viewers’ choice of videos, usually lasting between 30 and 60 seconds.
However, the Federal Communications Commission had established new rules in order to offer extra protection during children’s TV shows. In accordance to the rules, networks can no longer practice “host-selling” – where products are pitched during, and not before, shows using an actual character of the program.
Other rules require networks to make it clear when commercial breaks are about to start by mentioning it before. Phrases like “After these messages…we’ll be right back!” or “And now a word from our sponsor” have gained a lot of popularity after the rules were set in place.
A YouTube spokesperson has released a comment over the recent complaint, saying that a lot of child advocacy groups were consulted during the development of the kids’ app. Adding that feedback is always important for improving the experience, YouTube disagreed with the complaints and mentioned they were never directly contacted by the complainers.
Previous to the launch at the beginning of the year, YouTube advertised the upcoming app as family friendly, emphasizing the kind of control the parents will have over what their kids watch and how much time they spent on it.
Under the same “family friendly” feature, YouTube also revealed that all advertising spots airing on the app are monitored, which gained the support of many advocacy groups, including the Family Online Safety Institute and Common Sense Media.
Setting clear rules that limit advertising
During an interview in March, Malik Ducard, the head of YouTube’s family and learning department, explained that the idea for the app was prompted by the ever-growing demand for more shows in the family entertainment genre. YouTube’s viewers of children’s programming have seen a great surge, rising with over 200% in 2014.
Therefore, the kids’ app was designed with an easy navigation and made accessible for all ages – large, swipeable buttons with bright colors that guide the little fingers. But this approach has split parents who already had divided opinions on technology.
Some believe online educational programs are a good babysitting tool, while others strongly advice against them, considering them a potentially harmful buddy. The American Academy of Pediatrics seems to support the latter, suggesting that children under 2 years old should have zero screen time.
However, according to the survey conducted by Communicus, an advertising consulting firm, over 70 percent of kids between 2 and 5 years old are using tablets. And wherever the views go, the advertisers follow.
With the ever-growing interest showed by consumers in the area of online videos, it was expected that advertising companies would step up their game. While entertainment apps directed at kids have become more and more popular, Hollywood has jumped on the train and started collaborating with digital entertainment networks.
Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants – these are only some of the shows available on YouTube Kids. Disney Channel also features some content, including Mickey Mouse episodes.
Last year, Disney purchased YouTube network Maker Studios at the outstanding price of $950 million, with the clear intent of boosting their content in the online space. However, EvanTubeHD, one of Maker Studios’ most famous channels, was among the names that appeared in the FTC complaint.
Advocacy groups claim the channel has set blurry lines between the actual program and the commercial material. As grounds for their complaint, they indicated the spots where an off-camera adult reviews toys for an excited child, as the voice surprises with “an infectious mix of enthusiasm and wonder.”
Image Source: Social Song Post
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