Opinion: Time the toy industry looked at a Digital Future Beyond YouTube

This week’s industry opinion comes from Dylan Collins, CEO of SuperAwesome, the digital kids engagement platform. This week, Collins talks us through why the toy industry really should be looking at a future beyond YouTube.

If I’d suggested to you at the beginning of 2019 that YouTube would be pulling back from kids content, you’d have probably laughed. Yet here we are at the start of 2020, where exactly this scenario is happening.

YouTube has announced its intention to reduce both advertising and community features for tens of thousands of kids content creators, many of which work with, or indeed are, toy companies themselves.

Although this has come as a shock to many, it was inevitable. YouTube had a vast kids audience but as
a platform (and marketing channel) was only ever designed for adults. The $170M COPPA fine which triggered this change was probably only the beginning (more fines will likely follow under GDPR-K).

Much of the toy industry has been built on TV. I don’t say this unkindly; it’s a fantastic, platform. But as TV declines to a minority medium and YouTube becomes regulated out of the picture, we need to think about the Digital Future Beyond YouTube (DFBY).

Many of you reading this will start to disagree at this point. YouTube has always been there, how could it not be in the future? But the people behind the platforms that we take for granted to power much of our industry simply aren’t thinking about our audience.

Big tech companies in general have woefully underinvested in kids. At a time when 40 per cent of new internet users are children, less than 1 per cent of all R&D investment goes into kidtech (and most of this comes from ‘independents’ outside of Silicon Valley).

With big tech not thinking about our industry, the answer must come from elsewhere. Although there are exceptions, breakout platforms don’t come from mature companies. Look out for the startups.

Should you be watching for ‘the new YouTube’? That may be the wrong question. In the adult space we’ve seen the emergence of a rich but fragmented video ecosystem (Snap, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram Stories). A reminder of how quickly this can happen: TikTok (now with over 500m active users) didn’t exist three years ago. None are as big as YouTube but they each provide a different type of user engagement.

In the kids space, this trend is already beginning. There is YouTube Kids and Kidoodle for pre-school, Rukkaz for older kids and the emerging OTT ecosystem on Smart TVs. The DFBY will be multi-platform.

What new platforms lack in scale, they can make up for in amplification. Early adopters on platforms have frequently had outsized success. Look at Talking Tom, Angry Birds and others. Investing in startup platforms pays off. Isn’t it time we started thinking a little more in investing in the platforms for our own ecosystem?

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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