YouTube Kids, the application offering a filtered version of YouTube that’s more kid-friendly, is now natively available on the big screen for the first time, Google announced today. Previously a mobile-only application, YouTube Kids will now be offered on a range of smart TVs, including those from LG, Samsung and Sony, which will make it easier for families with small children to access the service without having to use the app’s built-in “casting” feature.
Specifically, the app will come to the following TVs: all 2015-2017 LG webOS TVs (via the LG content store); all 2013-2017 Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players (via the Samsung App Store); and, following a firmware update, 2016-2017 Sony TVs (with the exception of Android TV, which is coming soon).
Now just over two years old, Google also offered an update on the YouTube Kids app’s traction, noting that the app today sees more than 8 million weekly active users and has streamed more than 30 billion views. The goal with YouTube Kids is to offer a window into the more appropriate, educational and entertaining content found on the larger video-sharing site, without exposing children to the site’s more mature fare.
However, unlike the kids’ categories on streaming services like Netflix or Amazon, the content in YouTube Kids’ is filtered by algorithms. And like any technology implemented without human oversight, that means it will sometimes get things wrong. In those cases, parents are asked to flag the offensive video to alert the company and get it removed.
In addition, parents who choose to turn on the app’s search feature may also inadvertently expose their kids to inappropriate content, for the same reasons. The app has faced controversy when its filters fail, and this continues today. For example, the BBC reported in March that YouTube was hosting thousands of videos designed to look like popular kids cartoons, but were actually adult-oriented parodies.
The YouTube Kids app filters out some of these sorts of disturbing videos, the report said, but doesn’t necessarily capture them all because of its reliance on automation. YouTube Kids has also come under fire from consumer watchdog groups that have complained to the FTC that YouTube isn’t beholden to the same policies around advertising as TV programmers are, which leads to deceptive ad practices.
These groups said that YouTube Kids is filled with videos that basically function like TV commercials, but without disclosure — including those with product placements, host selling and company-produced promotional videos. YouTube toes a fine line between advertising and content, saying in its own guidelines that it doesn’t consider a video from a toy company a “paid ad,” and while it may show videos of kids eating sweets, it doesn’t accept “paid ads” from candy makers.
Today, there continues to be a number of outstanding complaints the FTC has not addressed, including two focused on advertising and a third focused on how YouTube and YouTube Kids use influencers to market to children. YouTube rolled out an ad-free option last summer, but it only removes the “paid ads,” not those that fall into this gray area. In other words, YouTube Kids is just an okay-ish substitute for the YouTube app, and nowhere near as reliable as Netflix’s Kids section for being kid-safe.
The app still requires parental involvement and monitoring, which means you’ll sometimes have to put your foot down on channels that seem to only fuel rampant consumerism in kids by encouraging them to buy toys. (Or, rather, use this to your advantage to get the kids to do their chores and earn their allowance!) With the added support for smart TVs, YouTube Kids is now available on iOS, Android, Chromecast and now TV platforms in 26 countries worldwide.