How often are kids exposed to age-inappropriate ads?

YouTube is a common form of entertainment for children, but it can also be a source of exposure to inappropriate advertising. An investigation examines advertising on 10 of the most popular channels for children on the platform.

For many children and teenagers, YouTube and other free video platforms are a main source of entertainment. These platforms are also full of advertising content, but the content and duration isn’t currently regulated. Previous research has shown that 1 in 5 advertisements that young children are exposed to is age-inappropriate. A research letter in JAMA Network Open looked at the duration of ads that appear in child-directed YouTube as well as examining the frequency of age-inappropriate ads.1

The investigators found the top 10 most subscribed made-for-children channels on YouTube that were also English-language. They watched the 5 most-viewed videos on each channel and confirmed that they were also on YouTube Kids, which is for children aged younger than 13 years and does not have comment sections. Only 5 videos were viewed per channel because ads often appear in a similar pattern on a channel. For each video, an investigator noted the video length, view count; ad number, duration, and placement (ie, preroll, interstitial, postvideo, banner, and sidebar); and coded ad age-appropriateness.

The 50 videos samples had 286 ads; each show had an average of 5.72 videos. Sidebar ads were the most common (119), followed by preroll (48), banner (42), interstitial (41), and postvideo (36). The average total duration of ads, if not skipped, was 0.56 minutes per minute of video and 0.04 minutes per minute of video, if it could be skipped. Some of the channels even had advertising that was longer than the length of the video. Six out of the 10 channels had age-inappropriate ads, which appeared 18 times. They were often banner or sidebar ads for a violent video game.

The investigators concluded that advertising duration and appropriateness was not uniform across the most popular channels. Some advertising duration was found to exceed what’s allowed in television advertising. Many children are aware of preroll ads, which may be skippable but it’s unknown how often they do skip them. The investigators concluded that policymakers should consider extending advertising regulating to video platforms. YouTube and other platforms should consider having employees review the age-appropriateness of ads on children-focused videos. Clinicians should discuss with parents the need to help children become aware of advertising and how to skip past them, as well as guiding them to video platforms that are ad-free.

Reference

1. Yeo S, Schaller A, Robb M, Radesky J. Frequency and duration of advertising on popular child-directed channels on a video-sharing platform. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(5):e219890. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.9890