In January 2016 Motherboard.vice.com released an article titled “Youtube personalities use ‘Minecraft’ to prey on underage fans” in which the author, Matthew Broomfield, describe how a 27 years old Belgian Youtuber allegedly used his fame to pressure underage boy and girls to send him naked pictures of themselves. 
It is important to use the word “allegedly” here since there are no verified sources, only several parents and children’s testimonies.
Nonetheless it is quite concerning, to say the least, to picture such a scenario considering the massive reach of Youtube videos among teenagers and children.
The audience is growing fast and the consequences of such an easy access to new medias are not well defined yet. However many amateur video makers are already generating billions of view every month with children-targeted contents, attracting sponsors and other marketing deals.
Compared to the traditional content such as cartoons and other music videos on the platform (which are quite similar to your average 90’s kid television show) this original content has an incredible capacity to generate views and an unprecedented potential to catch children’s attention.
Did you get the name of the product yet?. Thumbnail from the “Toys AndMe” channel.
Follow me in a journey full of bizarre, poorly produced channels with unbelievable views count. Making a successful kid show was never that easy, and by the end of this article you might even consider producing your own.
To understand the phenomenon I picked on some of the most famous Youtube channels with children oriented content. This choice was made considering the volume of views it made in the past years, and considering that it can be easily distinguished from other popular categories on the platform (music videos, video games, …).
Who are the kids on Youtube?
It is still quite hard to get specific numbers on a phenomenon reaching such a wide audience.
According to a report from “E.U. Kids Online” published in August 2013: “There are a limited number of studies mapping the ongoing rise of very young children’s internet use across Europe”. 
The same report mentions several European studies indicating that “internet take up by children under nine is continuing to rise, and that children are accessing the internet at younger and younger ages”.
A Dutch study, quoted in the report, shows that “78% of Dutch toddlers and pre-schoolers are already online and 5% of babies under 1 are going online (Brouwer et al, 2011)”.
And you may ask yourself: what would a one year old even do on the internet?
Well, considering the massive views children targeted videos are making on Youtube, you can bet they are very likely to watch content from the channels we are going to take a look at.
Tastegul thumbnail taken from the “Playtime Toy Unboxing PTU Disney Toys Barbie Dolls” channel
First of all, we need to mention the least concerning content which is pretty much the average cartoons and animation series I remember watching on TV as a kid.
One of the most popular Youtube videos of all time is a clip from the Russian produced serie “Masha and The Bear”: the 6 minutes short animation movie got over 2 billions views since it was released in January 2012. 
It is not surprising considering these numbers that many established brands such as “Thomas the Train” (currently more than 700 millions views on its channel since 2006) are pushing more and more content towards this market.
Less commercial initiatives are also important to mention, such as the “WhizKidScience” channel (currently more than 15 million views since 2012). On this channel you can follow a 11 years old posting his videos of short scientific experiments.
But even though this last example is quite encouraging, it is hard to stay optimistic: according to the numbers I found from the video content analytics platform OpenSlate, the most seen videos for kids on Youtube in February 2017  can be splitted in three categories: Cartoons/animation series, “Adults dressing up” and “Toys/food unboxing”.
Meet adults dressing in silly costumes that may earn more money than you do
While the first category is extremely wide and quite old in the entertainment industry, the last two are way younger and could not exist without the recent technology that made both Youtube possible and profitable.
Last February, Geoff Weiss started an article about the “Adult dressing up” videos phenomenon with a catch phrase that sums it up if you never encountered content from these categories: “You almost have to see it to believe it” .
I’m pretty sure I never saw that part of the Marvel Universe. Thumbnail from the “Web & Tiaras – Toy Monster Compilations” channel
The Youtube channel I picked as an example performed 25th worldwide with over 287 millions views last February according the the previously mentioned list.
The quality of “Web & Tiaras – Toy Monster Compilations” is pretty self explanatory if you consider that this channel publishes daily video featuring adult actors playing “superheroes and princesses in real life” in full cartoon character costumes.
And by “real life”, the channel’s description meant tasteful topics such as “Frozen Elsa Gets HAIRY LEGS” or “Spiderman & Frozen Elsa CUT CLOTHES”.
Strange times to be a hero.
It appears that the producers of such content are simply following theses steps:
- Get some costumes of character kids likes, pick a random “daily life” situation
- Film a couple of scenes with hysterical acting actors
- Add some (dialogue free) audio soundtrack
- Finish with an obnoxious and ultra flashy thumbnail picture
Et voilà: you got yourself a potentially profitable Youtube video!
Apart from the obvious free advertisement for the characters involved in the videos mentioned above, their content do not systematically involve products such as toys and candies.
Our second category is all about that.
When product placement is the main content
In November 2015 The Guardian published an article titled “Why YouTube is the new children’s TV… and why it matters” which directly addressed the issue of advertising to children though this new media. 
The article mentions “behind-the-scenes payments we don’t know about” between the channel owners and private companies, which is one of the main reasons for the lack of proper documentation available on the topic.
Later, the author Stuart Dredge qualifies the goal of this content as “uncomfortable naked consumerism calculated to generate pester-power from its young audience”.
A real paradise for announcers we can enter on the “Ryan ToysReview” channel, the second most viewed channel on the entire platform in February 2017 with 719 millions views. 
In the very same spirit that the previous category, most of the content involves one single concept: find any product a kid would like and film his/her reaction while unboxing and playing with it. Alternatively, the videos are filmed outside in amusements parks or toy stores,with pretty much no other concept but filming the semi-natural reactions of Ryan, a 5 years old boy.
During my journey I found a video sums up the actual concept behind this type channels. It is soberly titled “Toys for Kids Superhero Batman IRL Giant Hatchimals Toilet Trouble EggedOn PieFace Blast Box” and made more than one 1.5 million views since it was uploaded on 10th March 2017.
The ridiculous title will not tell you anything about the content, but who cares! It’s too late anyway because you clicked and you are now following Ryan and his father in a toy fair, testing the future products children will beg for in the coming year.
Behind this candid amateur “vlog” approach we can imagine the business opportunity this event must represent for Ryan’s parents: several big toy makers in one place, potentially ready to give their products some cheap, but massive, exposure in exchange of cheap gifts and other lucrative sponsorships.
Behind the obvious dream of having unlimited toys I can not help but asking myself how this children will cope with that crazy exposure while growing up.
So (too?) much products at once. Thumbnail taken from the “Ryan ToysReview”
To conclude the article I must admit that it has been a slightly disturbing journey into “that part” of Youtube. Considering the amount of attention I personally can give to low quality content on the platform, it’s a bit scary to imagine growing up with that amount of barely hidden advertisement in the palm of my hand.
This article was not meant to be entirely alarming, I mentioned an educational channel and there are many examples of high quality Youtube channels children might end up watching. But, as the introduction briefly illustrated, dramatic events and a lot unanswered questions around the production of this content might continue to make the news in the coming years.
From the absurdity and brain crushing quality of the “Adults in costumes” trend, to the effects on children’s development caused by hours of viewing not so subtle product placement, the “digital natives” (born after 1980 ) generations will certainly need to address a lot of questions in the future.
But as CreaTers we may transform these issues into opportunities to build solutions that can improve the quality and ethics on a medium that can potentially reach millions of children around the planet.
Sources and References:
 “Youtube personalities use ‘Minecraft’ to prey on underage fans” by Matthew Broomfield, published on January 30th 2016 on Motherboard https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/youtube-celebrities-uses-minecraft-to-prey-on-underage-fans
 “Zero to Eight – Young children and their internet use’, published in August 2013 by “EU Kids Online” (European Union and the London School of Economics and Political Sciences co-funded organisation) http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/52630/1/Zero_to_eight.pdf
 List of most viewed YouTube videos, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_viewed_YouTube_videos
 “Top 100 Most Viewed YouTube Channels Worldwide February 2017”, published by TubeFilter.com with data provided by OpenSlate
 “YouTube’s Latest Bizarre Trend Has Adults Dressing Up In Spider-Man And Elsa Costumes”, published on February 2nd 2017 on TubeFilter.com http://www.tubefilter.com/2017/02/02/youtube-bizarre-trend-adults-spider-man-elsa-costumes/
 “Why YouTube is the new children’s TV… and why it matters” by Stuart Dredge, published on Thursday 19th November 2015 on The Guardian.com https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/nov/19/youtube-is-the-new-childrens-tv-heres-why-that-matters
 Digital Native, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_native