Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that YouTube was considering some drastic measures in response to growing criticism over its impact on children—which has included everything from a federal investigation into whether it illegally tracked kids to controversies over disturbing content aimed at children and the site’s use by pedophiles. Measures being considered by the company apparently included “moving all children’s content into a separate product, the existing stand-alone YouTube Kids app,” as well as disabling recommendation functions on videos aimed at kids, the Journal wrote.
One problem: Children’s and family-centric content on YouTube is some of the most popular on the site and thus is big business, with creators earning somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000 on average for every million views. In 2017, YouTube told Time Magazine that family vlogging views were up 90 percent in the last year. Conversely, YouTube Kids reportedly generates a fraction of the traffic that the main site does, and per a Wednesday report by Marketwatch, parents of young YouTubers are concerned forcing their content into the walled-off app will cut into their earnings.
One father told Marketwatch that around 90 percent of the traffic generated by his eight-year-old daughter comes from the main site rather than the Kids platform, and that he believed relegating her there would reduce revenue by 90 percent:
A father of a child YouTube star with almost 2 million subscribers told MarketWatch that on average only 10% of the views on his 8-year-old daughter’s videos come from the YouTube Kids app. He asked to remain anonymous for this story.
Some of his daughter’s videos buck this trend, but the ones that do receive much lower ad revenue. “I looked at a few videos that had 90% of views come from YouTube Kids. Based on those numbers, revenue would decrease by 80%. So instead of $1.00 you’d receive $0.20,” he told MarketWatch.
His videos are mostly clips of his daughter playing with various toys. He declined to share with MarketWatch how much money he currently makes from the channel each year.
Here’s a different parent with more concerns, per Marketwatch:
Brian — a different father whose sons Gabe, 13, and Garrett, 10, have a YouTube page with approximately 1.7 million subscribers — says he “applauds YouTube for wanting to protect kids from potentially inappropriate content.” But he doesn’t think the change could work in practice.
“It’s not a viable business model for those of us creating good, family-friendly content,” he told MarketWatch. “The revenue generated currently from views on the YouTube Kids app is very low, a tiny fraction of the main platform.”
One view, of course, is that YouTube’s content and moderation issues are a never-ending hellhole—and that way the platform actually works inherently makes generating for-profit content off of children exploitative. Moreover, the platform has shown few signs of getting its act together.
On the other hand, as Vice wrote earlier this year, there is a large community of creators “striving to make genuinely good, enriching, educational content for children,” so cutting them out of the picture could cede the field to algorithmic content farms. And all the hand-wringing in the world isn’t going to make a dent in the popularity of YouTube, so perhaps shuttling kids away from the ongoing garbage fire of the main platform isn’t the worst idea (though this generously assumes YouTube Kids will clean up its own well-known problems).
Former MySpace chief of cyber security Hemu Nigam told Marketwatch, “Everyone is focused on revenue, but we need to think of the safety of kids first. In the real world, we wouldn’t bring kids to an adult area and then tell them to find the kids’ space or bring them to a kids’ space and say they can go to the adult area whenever they want. So why do we do that on YouTube and on the internet?”
A Google spokesperson told Marketwatch that for now, the idea of moving all content that stars children to the Kids portion of its platform is just an idea.
“We consider lots of ideas for improving YouTube and some remain just that — ideas,” Google wrote. “Others, we develop and launch, like our restrictions to minors live streaming or updated hate speech policy.”