Some of the ads and their bumpers that you'll see on a typical weekday morning.
My 18-month-old daughter uses YouTube for two things: Peppa Pig and that Imogen Heap song that was designed to be baby crack. But the YouTube Kids app has another thing they want her to watch. Specifically, ads...for YouTube Kids.
I get it, I get it: free apps need to be ad-supported. So at first I thought this was just a move to bully me into paying for YouTube Red. In the evening, this exact same app, with the exact same settings, advertises video series that are exclusive to YouTube Red, including one with Minecraft mega-star DanTDM. On the weekends, it shows ads for movies. But in the mornings, prime toddler time, all of the ads are for the app you are already using.
My daughter gets frustrated by the ads, because if she clicks on Peppa Pig she wants Peppa Pig, dammit. If the big rectangle is showing an ad instead, she'll click one of the little rectangles that does have Peppa Pig showing. And then she'll have to watch an ad on that one, too.
At first I thought: I can't wait until she learns to recognise the "skip ad" button, or to sit still for the 15 seconds it takes to wait out an unskippable ad. But then I thought: maybe that's the whole point.
I asked Nina Tyler, communications senior associate for the YouTube team at Google, what is the purpose of these ads. Here is the entire text of her emailed response:
Hi Beth, across YouTube and our companion apps we occasionally run house ads
I asked again how they make money or if they served another purpose. She didn't respond.
The ads aren't on their own, either: they are preceded by a three-second bumper telling you that you're about to watch an ad. These bumpers started appearing after the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for Digital Democracy filed a complaint saying, in part, that kids can't tell what's an ad and what's not. Likewise, YouTube has ad policies that forbid a lot of things — clickable ads, ads for food and drink — perhaps leaving little to advertise besides YouTube itself.
These ads can't be making money for YouTube in any direct way, but if they teach kids how to sit still through an ad, they will become savvier consumers — and maybe easier marks — as they grow up. Either that, or I'll get sick of the crying and switch to YouTube Red.