Called YouTube Kids, the mobile app only plays age-appropriate videos and has a simplified design that even young children who can’t read will be able to navigate. The app, which will carry ads, is available in the U.S. for Android and iOS devices.
YouTube says it has seen nearly 200% growth in family entertainment over the past year.
As its popularity with children has increased, so have concerns from parents. The site bans explicit sexual content, but there are dark corners of YouTube where kids can accidentally end up. There is a “Safety mode” on the regular site and apps, but it’s still easy for kids to stumble onto inappropriate videos, or worse, read the comments.
“Parents have been asking us to make YouTube friendlier for kids and for families,” said Shimrit Ben-Yair, the group product manager for YouTube Kids.
The app only plays a heavily edited selection of videos. Since there is such a huge amount of new kids’ content being posted daily, the app will also rely on the community to tag anything ill-suited for children.
YouTube Kids is for watching only, so there is no ability to upload content, or share or comment on videos. Even the search function has been cleaned up. If a kid punches in a search term such as “sex” the app will reply, “Try searching for something else.”
To accommodate toddlers, there’s only minimal text in the graphics heavy design, and kids can speak search terms instead of typing. When a video ends the next will play automatically. A timer feature lets parents control how long their kids can use the app before it shuts down.
Videos are divided into four categories. The Shows section includes popular channels like Sesame Street and The FuZees, which are some of the big name brands releasing new episodes for the launch. Music is stocked with videos including the sing-along version of “Let it Go,” which has been viewed more than 345 million times.
The app also takes into account kids more peculiar YouTube obsessions with the Learning and Explore sections. Many children spend hours watching user generated content, dance how-tos, or old gymnastics routines. There are Minecraft walk-throughs, where a player narrates a video of their gameplay. On the wildly popular DisneyCollector channel, a woman slowly unpacks toys such as princess figurines, describing each detail in a sing-songy voice.
In addition to testing with kids and parents inside Google, YouTube shared the app with children’s advocacy groups like the Family Online Safety Institute and The Internet Keep Safe Coalition.
The free app will make its money from ads specifically targeted at kids. All the ads will undergo a rigorous review, according to Ben-Yair. To comply with the COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), which limits online tracking of anyone under 13, the app doesn’t require users to log in.