The Web continues to go down—in age, that is. Even as the major media conglomerates hustle to maximize their share of the Web by leveraging their libraries of children’s offerings, smaller companies edge in on the kid angle.
The efficient, multi-media-ed folks at the PR company BusinessWire (A Berkshire-Hathaway Company) now send word that the newest and bestest net stuff for kids is at Kideos.com, a product brought to you by the aptly named Earlier Media. As the moniker implies, these folks target the youngest possible video-watching web users, and expect to grab their share of kiddy gold.
A visit to Kideos.com reveals a wide array of clips lovingly uploaded to YouTube by some film company, PR wage slave, or obsessed fan that the Kideos staff has painstakingly cataloged and sorted by age and subject matter. Content categories break down into both topics (“Educational,” “Fairy Tales”) and characters (“Barney,” “
[Ed Note: Could it be that in some bright future a talented young entrepreneur will develop a similar method for guiding surfers through the Internet more generally? Imagine the Web’s offerings sorted into useful categories. Oh! if only that day would come; we would all shout a collective, “Yahoo!”]
Judging by its press release, Kideos adds value by providing safety. Its first three sentences emphasize that kids will “safely watch,” in a “safe environment,” content from “trustworthy destinations.” Safety is the company’s watchword. Earlier Media’s own site commences with the assurance, “Earlier Media is dedicated to providing safe and trustworthy web properties for children.”
Company legend has it that safety concerns prompted the business from the start. Kideos explains how the brainstorm came from parents who entertained their hospitalized daughter by watching Elmo videos. Apparently, they were not watching the thousands of licensed
Indeed, few would sit their toddlers down to watch clips such as “Exploding Elmo Doll” or the many “Elmo Kills Barney” iterations (sample some here, here, here, and here; cringeworthy on many levels). At the same time, it seems just as likely that the Earlier Media team realized that some parents might find benefit from someone doing the searching for them.
Thus, the a-ha moment—what if there were a web site that would sort YouTube clips so that parents would not have to do it themselves? Et Voila!
The benefit seems to be categorization, but the site sells safety. It promises that a (still-anonymous) “Video Advisory Council” of “parents and educators” monitor the selected videos for content and age appropriateness. Lip service gets paid to “factoring in developmental criteria and recommendations from leading experts nationwide,” although one wonders what that means (or even who those experts could be).
There is no denying that the involvement of real parents and educators. At the moment Earlier Media consists of a husband-and-wife team (presumably the ones from the hospital), Keith Richman and Michelle Richman, as Chairman and Educational advisor. They are both parents, and Michelle Richman is a “former teacher and current educational consultant.” Even so, it would not be shocking to discover that, at least for now, Kideos’s Council comprises two members whose names rhyme with "Meeth" and "Kichelle."
The videos may be safe, but one should not assume a child can necessarily visit the site without parental supervision. The press release fudges the facts (trimming them with the old saw “It’s actually educational” routine) by claiming, “Within a short period of time, kids are able to select videos to play without any help from adults, giving them a sense of confidence and a way to interact with computers just like grown-ups.”
Well, that may be true if “just like grown-ups” the kids can read and, unlike many grown-ups, have the skill to sort through a screenful of slag to mine the gold. Sure, the folks at Kideos categorize the clips. They do not, however, take much time to give fit them together in any logical fashion. Just a moment ago my click on the “Disney Movies” section yielded—in order—the third of ten Lion King clips; the Flo Rida-infused video hype for G-Force (pure advertising; the movie has not yet been released to theaters); then the second and first Lion King clips; and then one from the middle of Cars. If the order and arrangement confuse you, imagine how a pre-literate viewer might feel. Then again, maybe the best experts will fess up that kids don’t really need continuity.
All the promotion of safety begs a question of whether the folks at Sesame Workshop, Disney, and the other big media types will feel particularly safe with Kideos’s interpretation of copyright law? Adweek reports that “the company would make an effort to respect all copyright laws.” At this writing, Kideo may be jumping over the fine line between fair use and fair game. Can experts able discern whether a clip meets the needs of a two-year-old but not a three-year-old still unable to figure out whether those clips are fully halal?
Undoubtedly it’s less a matter of inability to judge and more a calculation that it’s someone else’s problem. After all, Kideos didn’t post the stuff; they just point out where to find it. There seem to be few problems a little cease-and-desist letter won’t solve.
Should such missives be sent, the person opening them presumably will be Duke Econ/UCLA MBA grad Josh Solt, the Chief Operating Officer who provided most of the PR blurbs and seems to be the go-to guy for day-to-day operation. For their part, the Richmans have good reason to be busy with other matters. They are parents; more to the point, Mr. Richman’s has an Internet empire to run. And that empire is sure to give Mr. Solt some crack legal expertise, because the folks behind Earlier Media have a lot of experience in dealing with YouTube copyright issues.
Kideos did not merely launch from a parent’s brainstorm to provide a public service. Keith Richman has built a small fortune on web sites that cater overwhelmingly to the kind of content Kideos promises to avoid. His day job consists of trudging to an office labeled “CEO, Break Media.”
The company’s flagship site, Break.com is the joy of cubicle jockeys and scourge of bosses worldwide. The site arguably does better than anyone at attracting the coveted demographic of men aged 18 to 34. Founded in 1998, its primary service has been to sort and categorize video clips, flash games, and other content appealing to its audience of grown-up boys. (The site launched as big-boys.com; the name change not only came in the wake of a lost arbitration case with a domain-name squatter, it also moved away from the mild hint of gay porn and toward recognition that much of its traffic comes from desk jockeys taking breaks at work.)
Break compiles material from other sources, but has also done extremely well at encouraging user-generated content. In 2006 Mr. Richman told socalTECH.com that Break had paid $300,000 to users providing the site’s content. Kids send in the videos, Break.com posts them, and Richman’s company takes over ownership. Break Media and its mysterious parent company, Delaware-based TMFT Enterprises, LLC, have worked assiduously to guard that ownership—and make sure their own stuff does not show up on YouTube. A small number of voices warn users against providing that content; a few YouTubers have resisted (note the comments attached to this clip.)
Richman bought out Break from its founder, and has gone on to develop a suite of web sites dedicated to reaching the young adult male including NASCAR-themed AllLeftTurns.com, GQ-esque MadeMan.com, and the self-explanatory Chickipedia.com. Most of the sites include content that Richman surely would shield his child against. Break.com hosts a soft-core category, once called Not Safe For Work (NSFW), now labeled “Spicy Videos.” Other Break Media sites have content registering varying levels on the Scoville scale. In other words, Richman knows intimately what threats the Internet holds for young eyes.
Richman also knows the business of the Internets. He worked in
Kideos currently offers videos with little more income potential than a couple discreet Google-generated ads. The company has high hopes, however, that the site will literally be the tip of a kid-bucks iceberg. Solt tells Adweek that the site will become a funnel to other kid-oriented, income-generating sites. The company has also registered site names such as Boxcargames.com and Braindolphin.com, all grouped under the aegis of GameClassroom.com. In other words, look for a raft of edugamement options from the folks at Earlier Media. Break Media has a corner full of male young adults; the sister company expects to grab chunks of the preschool market.
This may represent a slight shift in the business model for marketing to children. Kideos may not be a vehicle for advertising, but a doorway into pay-to-play content. Whereas television programs once worked as bait for advertising’s hook, (literally) recycled television programming now may serve to hook kids into more direct purchasing. As COO Solt tells Adweek, “We think parents are going to want and be willing to pay for this content."
We shall see.