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How quality content and tech are critical for safe online experiences for kids

September 26, 2019 | By Bryson Masse—Independent Journalist @Bryson_M

Increasingly, parents and policy-makers acknowledge that some of the most popular online content channels for children leave much to be desired. That has prompted a push to ensure that content targeted at children remains compliant in a shifting regulatory landscape. It also presents an opportunity to provide places where parents, kids, and advertisers feel secure. 

Finding the right spaces for kid friendly content has been challenging on many levels. Issues range from inappropriate content mixed in with kid-friendly viewing, the use of young people’s personal data, and creating content that truly appeals to — and serves — young audiences. 

Recently, Group Nine Media ventured into the kids content space with its Dodo Kids YouTube channel. Launched in July, Dodo Kids joins a number of efforts from media organizations that are trying to navigate the challenging kids-specific content channels. 

For the creators of some of the most-viewed content on the internet, the existence of the kids content vertical made sense, says Group Nine Media’s chief marketing officer, Rachel Baumgarten. Dodo Kids is “an evolution based on the content that we create, and the audiences that we already serve. The Dodo, as a brand, is already brand safe. [It’s] already a brand that parents watch with their kids, as there’s a lot of co-viewing that happens.”

The strategy starts with content

Group Nine’s move into kids content is paying off. Two months into its run, the numbers have started to come in: views have increased 30% month over month and the YouTube channel has seen more than 1 million unique monthly viewers. 

With cute hops and nose boops, best pals Bubbles the pig and Seamus the lamb are two of the many adorable characters found on the Dodo Kids YouTube channel. Beyond featuring appealing animals, Dodo Kids tailors its on screen content to be better aligned with younger viewers. That means less text and more images and voice overs to communicate the messaging.

“It’s playful. It’s fun,” says Baumgarten about the content made for kids aged three to seven. “And it speaks to bonds and relationships, whether in this case, it’s between children and animals, or the relationship that kids have with feeling good and dancing and singing—which is why we went into Dodo Sing Dodo Dance as a franchise.”

Advertisers want in

Having a channel specifically made for kids has also allowed the company to grow deep partnerships with advertisers. An early example is their work with Paramount Film’s Dora the Explorer live action movie Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Content used in pre-roll and a standalone mini-series was created specifically for the main Dodo channel, the Dodo Kids channel, as well as the El Dodo Spanish-language vertical. Baumgarten sees that as a critical way moving forward to maintain brand safety. 

“We are looking to create these larger partnerships with brands that are looking to be in a brand safe environment and a trusted environment,” she says.

In producing this material, Group Nine Media has also maintained compliance with a slew of policies that protect younger viewers. Any sort of product integration needs a distinction or call as advertisement. There aren’t any third party websites or social platforms linked to in the content. The Dodo’s legal team reviews product integrations before launch. And any on-screen personalities linked to the editorial content aren’t used to sell products or services.

“[Parents] want them to be able to see content that they know is regulated and safe and is trusted,” says Baumgarten. “So it felt like the right time to lean into kid specific programming.”

Evolving regulations require nimble strategies

The efforts at The Dodo are occurring at the same time as the overall regulatory environment continues to change. YouTube has settled its case of non-compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Or COPPA). Beyond a Federal Trade Commission fine of $170 million, there are changes for publishers on the giant video platform. While the changes have yet to be deployed, it appears that content flagged for children will not include personalized ads and comments fields will be disabled as well.

According to a blog post by lawyers at Fenwick & West LLP, this interpretation of COPPA could have implications for the wider publishing business. The FTC made clear that companies can be found liable for non-compliant content even if they have “actual knowledge” of the subject matter and target audience. That means, even if the kids content is found on a website targeting the general population, the platform should be prepared to make special arrangements to make sure the content and technologies comply with the COPPA rules.

Regulatory clarity opens new avenues for solutions

However, newly clarified standards could prove to be an opportunity for emerging players in the online kids video market. Dylan Collins, CEO of U.K.-based SuperAwesome, says that the current methods of age-verification will no longer be enough to protect against liability in this space. 

“Today, for example, when a child goes to a general audience platform, they get an age gate which says tell us you’re over 13.  Chances are that that child ticks the boxes and says ‘yes, sir, I’m over 13,’” says Collins. The FTC has made it clear that standard is not good enough, he adds.

In a bid to address the lack of technology efforts to solve some of these problems, SuperAwesome announced the details of its Rukkaz (pronounced raucous) free, ad-supported streaming platform earlier this summer. Made for publishers trying to get the attention of kids aged seven to 12, it will also contain technologies that protect children’s privacy and offer more guarantees to brands and advertisers.

“We want to make sure that kids have got access to all of the creators and influencers that they want, but that they’re able to engage with them and to completely safe environments.” Collins believes that human review of ad media alongside just using context-based targeting, rather than personal info will define the growth of “kidtech” in the next few years. 

Since YouTube’s settlement with the FTC, Collins says the interest in Rukkaz’ protected, kid content platform has grown tenfold. The platform is still in development and has not had an official launch. However, content creators are already in the midst of getting onboard, according to Collins.

Going forward, he sees potential in technologies similar to today’s CAPTCHA systems to detect when it’s a younger viewer, automatically directing them to age-friendly content. He also says that the wider internet, used by adults and children alike, will benefit from this new focus on standards and privacy.

“The kids digital media environment is really setting the standard for what I think the adult digital media space is going to look like in five or 10 years time, or certainly where a lot of people want it to go,” says Collins. 

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