Stories From the Great Indoors: Solving for Hidden Pain-Points for Online Streaming Services for Kids

Kids and parents have unique needs in how they discover and watch online content, and streaming services like YouTube Kids and Netflix are competing to innovate in this area by launching original kids shows, interactive content, as well as badges and rewards tied to viewing. But when does making a great product experience mean that the product needs to adapt and put controls in place to help kids and parents make good viewing-choices that may limit the use of the product?

We may all be guilty of spending too much time on Facebook and Instagram, and we are quick to swipe when a breaking news alert ticks in on the screen. According to Intel’s “State of Mobile Internet Etiquette” study from 2011:

“46 percent of kids have seen their parents use a mobile device at dinner, and 49 percent say they don’t see anything wrong with it.”

So it should come as no surprise that kids see time spent with a mobile device as commonplace and that great product experiences lead to increased usage. In this article, I want to explore how YouTube Kids and Netflix try to solve for the hidden pain-point of balancing between making a great product experience and setting limits to its use.

Netflix Kids experience iPad main page.

Research is an essential component to designing anything thoughtfully, and I would argue that both YouTube Kids and Netflix have created great product design and experiences for kids by having access to vast amounts of data, use of algorithms as well as consumer insights studies. They are both very good at figuring out what the users respond to and how to keep them watching, but how are they designing for frustration-free parental control?

YouTube Kids

YouTube Kids is an app for iOS and Android which allows parents to set up profiles for their kids and set controls for viewing and content.

Main screen after starting the app and selecting the profile.

The design is innovative and easily understandable for the target user. Recommended videos are loosely tied by content and are appropriate for kids under 12, but may not be appropriate for the specific age-group. In this case, a 6-year-old user likes videos of Squishies, but make-up hacks are considered inappropriate, though not offensive.

Ability to select collections for each user in parental controls.

The solution offered for this is only to allow watching from curated collections. This makes the product more useful since these channels are curated by select partners and users to add an extra layer of security, but the selection of channels can be tedious. This product design allows for more linear and targeted viewing with episodes and content of a specified duration and viewing session can be easier to end at a set time.

The parental controls also allow for a timer. Once the time is up, the app will lock for the kid. Since the app auto-plays content, this is a good way to control the time without having to rush over to the kid with the iPad to turn it off or have them promise to only “watch one more show.”

Parents can also turn off the search option for kid users and block specific content. This is a bit cumbersome, and finding content to block or report takes time. YouTube Kids also allows advertising, though with fairly strict guidelines and many parents are uncomfortable with their kids being advertised to.

My thoughts are that YouTube Kids has adequate parental controls, but they do require some time setting up to select channels. Older kids (6–8) using the product would most likely want to have more freedom with what they watch but are not quite ready to use the regular product experience. There is an opportunity for YouTube to create age-appropriate profiles in their regular experience to cater to the users as they age out of YouTube Kids.

Netflix

Netflix is producing some of the most popular kids content in the world and is an ad-free paid product.

The set-up for kids parental controls begins in the onboarding process where the user selects the type of profiles they want to create and which age-restriction the profile should have. All new Netflix accounts come with a Kids profile as standard which means that the user is made aware of the kids experience from the beginning without having to look for it. This design approach is a thorough study of how users actually engage with the product.

With the current user experience, there is no restriction or password protection when picking a profile to start watching Netflix. This means that kids can select their parents’ profile to watch from. To prevent kids from watching content which is not age-appropriate, users can restrict content to an age-group, requiring a PIN to watch restricted content.

These types of restrictions are designed to work after kids age out of the traditional kids experience into a regular profile, though by the age of 11–12 most kids will probably have cracked the PIN code. By designing for this experience, Netflix is honest about the way their users interact with the product experience and make sure there is an answer to alleviate many parents’ worry.

Recent additional rating information has been added to Netflix to help parents and kids make useful and informed choices when selecting something to watch. This product design is especially important since many of Netflix’ new shows and movies are original content where few people have an existing reference point or opinion. Once the content is selected, the user is informed about the rating and the reason for the rating in an unobtrusive way in the overall user experience.

Netflix does not have a timer control or timed access. This may be because it is difficult to do across multiple platforms like TV UI, web and mobile or because research shows it is ineffective. Adding a timer-function to mobile apps would most likely be a favorite feature among parents though and should be considered.

Conclusion

Both of these products serve the immediate need of their users with an intuitive design that’s easy to use for both kids and parents, great content, interactive components and suggested viewing. They both address parents’ hidden pain-points regarding lack of control, but could perhaps do more to encourage co-viewing, where parents and kids watch something together, and interactive offline activities which will lead to more meaningful interactions between parents and kids in person.