How will YouTube's move to stop targeted ads for kids affect content creators?

After YouTube announced policy changes with regard to kids' content, experts laud its efforts to ensure the platform is safe for children and discuss implications for content creators

e4m by Shikha Paliwal
Published: Jan 10, 2020 9:12 AM  | 7 min read

 YouTube has announced certain changes in order to protect children’s privacy online in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). These new rules are set around content marked as ‘made for kids’.

This means that any content for children on the platform will now be free of features like personalised advertising, super chat, comments, live chat and the notification bell. These changes have been rolled out globally.

The move comes following a $170 million fine that YouTube had to pay last September for violation of COPPA. The platform was accused by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of using the data from children’s viewing history to serve personalised advertisements.

According to their blog, “YouTube now treats personal information from anyone watching children’s content on the platform as coming from a child, regardless of the age of the user. This means that on videos made for kids, we limit data collection and use, and as a result, we need to restrict or disable some product features.”

All content creators using the platform will have to ensure that their content is marked ‘made for kids’ or ‘not made for kids with the help of a simple setting provided by YouTube. But the platform has categorically stated: “Creators know their content best, and should set the designation themselves. We also use machine learning to help us identify this content, and creators can update a designation made by our systems if they believe it is incorrect. We will only override a creator designation if abuse or error is detected.”

Given the financial implications the latest move has for content creators, the changes are bound to draw some criticism from the community. Personalised ads are more expensive and YouTubers that make content for kids will see a drop in revenue. It came as no surprise then that several YouTubers took to Twitter to express their reservations, while several others frantically reached out to the YouTube Creators official handle on Twitter to have their doubts cleared.

In India, YouTube has over 250 MAUs and the platform’s popularity has seen a bourgeoning community of YouTubers. On her visit to India last year, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki had said that more than 1,200 Indian creators had crossed the one million subscriber-milestone. The latest policy changes are bound to impact them too especially if their content is being viewed by kids. Since the changes have only recently been announced, Indian content creators were reluctant to speak about the development without first fully understanding what it could mean for them, meanwhile some welcomed the move.

Says Rohit Raj, Bhuvan Bam’s Business Partner and Manager, BB KI VINES, “I believe it’s a decent filter to have. As the ‘made for kids’ feature is to screen content for children below 13 years of age it is a social responsibility that a creator can choose to use the ‘made for kids’ policy in the best interest. With the internet in the hands of many and all, such policies can safeguard social interests.”

Data privacy laws are going to get tougher across the world, and YouTube’s new policy is in the right direction, believes Kumar Deb Sinha, Executive Vice President, Dentsu Aegis Network and Country Head – The Story Lab India. He also points out that today YouTube is one of the largest repository of kids/infant & baby content and this ‘made for kids’ step goes a long way in defining the direction of data protection and privacy for this age group.

Sinha further explains that this, however, will have a massive impact on both advertisers & creators. He says, “In the current digital advertising landscape, personalized ads is one of the core selling point. Backed by data, we know what ad is getting served to whom. By disabling this feature, this will definitely create a challenge for advertisers in the short term. So advertising revenues on kids content will definitely see short term headwind. This in turn will create a massive challenge for creators. Currently they follow a simple model of monetization, driven by YouTube ads. The moment they dry up, it will have an effect on their bottom line. I believe YouTube will support their preferred & popular creators through programming/production support in the short term, while in the long term, the creators have to diversify their monetization streams through merchandising, global distribution & multiple language play out across OTT & other content distribution platforms. It will be tough time, but the winners will emerge with a much diversified business model, not only dependent on YouTube ads.”

Elaborating on the development, Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO, Mirum India, says that children’s space should be sacrosanct and therefore YouTube’s move must be lauded. “Like it or not, the iPad with YouTube videos playing on them, have replaced the security blanket for a large number of kids. Parents also heave a sigh of relief that the child is quiet and engaged in some fascinating content, while they can do their other chores in the house. However, at the same time, exploitation of kids, for advertising specific products and much worse stuff, is equally rampant. So this move is a good one and should make parents feel a lot more secure and comforted, as they leave their child unsupervised, while the child is viewing YouTube content. “

As for the impact on advertisers, he adds, “The fact is that, there are many and more options for advertisers to reach their target audience in today's connected world, and if for the sake of protection of kids' privacy and safety, a few areas are barred for advertisers, they should be okay with it. After all, the advertisers / marketers would also be parents and would not want their child to suffer, would they?”

Ashutosh Harbola, CEO & Co founder, Buzzoka explains why YouTube's plans to implement safety for children on the platform are much needed: "The previous guidelines of YouTube advertising in the United States weren't compliant to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The law which clearly forbids tracking and targeting users under the age of 12 has been a matter of concern and YouTube has already been slapped millions of dollars for it."

He agrees that the iterative changes may create pressure for content creators. "But meaningful changes happen in great big leaps," he emphasises. 

"The content creators will now be more careful while posting content which will gradually improve the content quality of the platform. Creators will now set a designation for themselves to ensure that children’s content is being identified accurately. Now we will witness an uptick in contextual ads that advertisers will promote basis data-supported targeting instead of an ad-hoc approach followed thus far. This is a welcome move as it gets implemented across the globe and will be a delight for both advertisers and users," he adds.

Besides its implications for content creators, the new policy is also a huge shift for YouTube and how they’ve been conducting business. Says Neena Dasgupta, CEO & Director, Zirca Digital Solutions, “While it’s definitely a step in the right direction, for YouTube execution of its new policies will especially be key. Deciding when a video is being targeted to kids is a question that they will probably have to deal with. While this could prove to be a business pivot for YouTube, it’s a whole new opportunity for content creators and advertisers.”

Children may be the end consumers/ users of a product, but they certainly aren’t the decision-makers opines Rajiv Rai, Group Account Manager, Togglehead, “. Keeping this in mind, I believe those who were earlier reaching out to children to leverage their ‘Influence power’ will now refine their targeting to those vested with the ultimate power, the parents. As for the platform, the elimination of ads secures YouTube’s identity as a child-friendly platform while increasing consumer stickiness by removing the barriers between kids and what they wish to see! However, I foresee this as the start of higher scrutiny from regulation bodies on leading social media platforms.”

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