Zoodles Blog Learn and Play Every Day

September 21, 2009

Blocking Ads from Children

Filed under: Parental Controls,Technology in the Home,Zoodles Blog — Erin @ 5:36 pm

Zoodles is proud to announce the release of a major new feature, ad-blocking!  With Zoodles ad-blocking enabled, children will no longer be exposed to ads within the Zoodles browser.

Since the founding of the company we have heard over and over again from parents that the advertising their children are subjected to results in parents being less comfortable putting their children online.  As a parent I feel the same way and I have personally found many of the ads that are displayed on sites for children not only annoying, but in some cases disturbing.  Here are a few examples of ads that we have found on sites for children:

Just look at this Nissan ad we found on a popular gaming site!  Do they really think 7 year olds are interested in cash back on a sedan?

car ad targetd to children

What parent wants their child playing a game described as “Action Shooter Meets Gang Themed MMO”… much less even looking at the ad!:

Gang Themed MMO targeted to children

And finally, here is an ad I am happy that my daughter will now never see again –  Hugh Hefner with partially dressed women promoting a video game!  Not the example I want to set for my 5 year old daughter!

Picture 15

I am happy to state that all of these ads will be blocked by the new and improved Zoodles browser!

Blocking advertising from children will also result in their ability to better concentrate on the games and activities they are trying to perform.  A child who is playing a challenging math game won’t have to waste working memory on the giant flashing advertisement next to the game, they will be able to use all their cognitive abilities on learning!

Below is an image that shows the difference the Zoodles ad-blocker can make.  The screen shot on the left shows a game from Nick Jr. with all the advertisements highlighted in red while the screen shot on the right shows the same game with the Zoodles ad-blocking enabled.  Notice all the sections of the screenshot on the right that are highlighted green… these are where the ads used to be. For those you counting, yes if you counted correctly… there were 8 ads on the original page!

AdBlocking-01

Here is another game for children showing the before and after effects of Zoodles blocking ads targeted to children.

AdBlocking-02

With over 18 advertisements targeted to children in the above screen shot you can really see the effect of removing ads from the child’s experience.

I want to thank the entire team for working hard on building this new Premium Feature, especially Michael on our engineering team!  Every family who signs-up for Zoodles will get a free trial of the Zoodles Premium Membership and they can test this feature out for themselves.  For any of you parents out there that find ads still showing up in Zoodles, just let us know and we will hunt them down and find a way to block them!

So if you hate advertisements targeted toward children be sure to tell your friends about Zoodles and how we block advertisements from kids!

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16 Comments »

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eric Klein and Eric Klein. Eric Klein said: RT @Zoodles: Zoodles now blocks ads from your child! Check out our blog post http://awe.sm/1iNW and this screen shot http://pic.gd/758e7a […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Blocking Ads from Children | Zoodles Blog -- Topsy.com — September 23, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

  2. So how will the creators of some of this great kids content be compensated for their work? Are you going to pass on revenue from Zoodles to the sites whose ads your blocking?

    Comment by Paul Marcum — September 24, 2009 @ 7:23 am

  3. Paul – we care deeply about the success of companies that create content for children. Having said that, our first priority is to provide children with a safe, fun and educational experience online. Many sites have found a way to make money without resorting to showing ads for violent video games or scantly dressed woman to children. Additionally, I often wonder if the advertisers know that these ads are being shown to young children and that they are being charged for impressions / clicks from children who can hardly read.

    Rather than asking if we are going to share revenue with sites whose ads we are blocking, I think the more interesting question is: Why are you pushing these advertisements to children? Do they think advertising to young children is appropriate? If they do think it is ok to show ads to children how do they screen what ads get shown?

    Finally, many of the sites that show the most ads are owned by some of the worlds largest media companies. The ads on these sites certainly don’t account for 1/10th of 1 percent of their corporate revenue.

    Comment by mark — September 29, 2009 @ 11:12 am

  4. Hi Mark –

    Thanks for the response to my comment. I think it’s great that Zoodles wants to deliver an ad-free experience to parents and kids – I just don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to do it without compensating the content creators.

    To state the obvious: despite appreciating commercial-free experiences, people still choose to “pay for” most of their on-air and online content with “attention” instead of dollars. The creators of the content – including those you display above – have relied on this bargain in operating their businesses.

    With the new Zoodles ad blocker you have unilaterally disrupted that bargain in order to increase your own profits. While you suggest that the revenue impacted is somehow irrelevant to these content companies, if you do care deeply about their success I think a check of that assumption is likely appropriate. If you’re unwilling to share subscription revenue with the content producers whose ad revenue streams you’re disabling, are you at least willing to to give them opt-in approval over the inclusion of their content in your ad blocked service?

    Comment by Paul Marcum — September 29, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

  5. Paul – happy to respond and sorry it took some time as your comment was stuck in “approval pending” status and we didn’t see it until today.

    Let me address all of your points:

    As I stated earlier, I agree that content creators should be compensated for their work but I don’t believe that their compensation should be tied to their ability to stuff annoying and potentially harmful advertisements in web pages that children are playing with. Why is it that content creators / publishers are not innovating around business model here and rather almost exclusively rely on the business models that work with adults online?

    This is a medium where there is an opportunity for business model innovation. For example, the hit site Starfall.com doesn’t have a single ad targeted toward children… rather they sell products, merchandise, and other items through their online store. They have managed to put the interests of their end users first and it is my understanding that they are doing pretty well with that model.

    You mentioned that you were stating the obvious that people choose to “pay for” their content with “attention” rather than dollars. Well I don’t think this is the case with children. While the attention economy exists as an implicit agreement between adults and content owners / distributors, I don’t think children have entered into that pact. A 5 year old is simply trying to have fun with a game online, they have no concept of this “bargain” you referred to.

    You asked me to check on the revenue impact associated with advertising and so I pulled some numbers. I couldn’t get data on private companies so I pulled some data on public companies. Disney in their most recent fiscal year had $38 Billion dollars in revenue and Viacom (Nick, Nick Jr. etc.) had revenue of $15 Billion in their last fiscal year. While I don’t have data sources on their pageviews or the CPMs they are getting for their ads, I am supremely confident that these are less than rounding errors for these companies.

    I believe that the real value a company gets from the attention of a child is NOT from the advertising revenue, rather it is the passion / love the child develops for the property they are interacting with. The revenue Viacom received for showing ads to my 5 year old daughter while she played Dora games is ZERO compared to the amount of money we have spent on books, DVDs, toys, stuffed dolls, backpacks, furniture (yes, we have child Dora couch!), clothing etc.

    To address you question about willingness to share subscription revenue I would state the following:

    1) We are always happy to talk with *ANY* content owner about this and any other issue they might have with Zoodles

    2) I would encourage content owners to make our ad-blocker obsolete by directly offering to consumers an ad free site and to charge for it.

    So this brings me back to the questions I asked you earlier:

    – Why do you think content owners / publishers have resorted to advertising as a model when it comes to monetizing traffic from young children?

    – Do you think the industry is doing enough to protect children from inappropriate ads?

    – What type of filtering process do you think most content owners / distributors use to determine what ads to show to young children?

    Comment by mark — September 29, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

  6. Hi Mark –

    Thanks again for the response. I agree that there are opportunities for subscription models for kids content. However what you’re doing at Zoodles doesn’t do anything to prove or disprove the validity of those models – not only are you not paying for the content within your subscription service, you are actually reducing the revenue to the content creators. Secretly connecting a cable to a neighbor’s satellite dish and then charging the rest of the neighborhood to hook up to your new TV service may have been an innovative and quite profitable model in its day but that didn’t make it sustainable or scalable.

    The questions you raise about alternative models and advertising to kids are the subject of endless discussion among the creators of kids content and should remain so. However so long as your plan is to unilaterally build a subscription business off of content you’re not paying for you have to recognize that you asking those questions may appear to those content creators a bit disingenuous. Perhaps the satellite company in the earlier analogy distributed channels some found objectionable or had bad customer service – would that have made siphoning value from their operation any more legitimate?

    Regardless, I appreciate the responses and don’t want to belabor my point. I am hopeful that Zoodles will soon find a path to operating responsibly in the kids media space. I think the best place for you to start is to get approval to strip ads before you do it.

    Comment by Paul Marcum — September 30, 2009 @ 8:03 am

  7. I believe I fall onto Paul’s side in this discussion, though I first and foremost want to say that I appreciate that both Paul and Mark have conducted this debate in a respectful and thoughtful manner. Now there’s something we should be modeling for our kids online!

    Perhaps if Zoodles feels that commercially-supported media is inherently unfair to children, it should make that part of its filtering mechanism, and tell parents as a marketing point that it will only provide content that is — by the creators’ choice and business plan — commercial free.

    Mark may be right that the relative loss to the companies involved is small in relation to their profits; is that really the measure of ethics? It worked for Robin Hood, but I’m not sure it holds up in a boardroom.

    In our country, we made our choices many many years ago as to how media would be funded; contrary to many nations, we chose commercial media first and later added a (pardon the expression) public option. It’s sad to say, but my experience — not just in the US but worldwide — is that when funding is tight, or profits shrink, what suffers is not global, marketable children’s media, but the crafted and high-quality works that — I assume — Zoodles wants to promote.

    As Paul notes, to strip the advertising from content Zoodles is not paying for in any case is a further intrusion into the rights and business of those whose content you tap into. Would it be OK if I philosophically believed that in today’s hard economy children deserve content that is not just commercial free, but entirely free, and offered a site that reposted Zoodles’ content without the subscription?

    Comment by Kidvidkid — September 30, 2009 @ 9:40 am

  8. Just to clarify:
    – Zoodles does NOT charge people money for access to free content
    – Zoodles provides a FREE browser to help parents find the best educational content that is age appropriate for their child and freely available online.
    – Zoodles has developed a powerful index that is rich with information on the educational merits of every entry in our system
    – Zoodles does offer a subscription based premium service for parents that want to access this information and want to have a more proactive role in selecting content that will help their child develop specific educational skills and is appropriate for their household
    – Many ads shown on children sites are not age appropriate (advertising: violence, sex, cars, mortgages etc)
    – Because of this problem Ad blocking software became one of our most popular request from parents
    – Ad blocking software is not a new technology and is currently the #1 add-on for other popular browsers like Firefox

    Protecting children from inappropriate ads is an important matter.
    I’m glad that we have taken this step forward in addressing the problem.
    Thanks for your thoughts and feedback.

    Dave

    Comment by Dave — September 30, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  9. Hi Dave –

    Yes, ad-blocking software packages have long been available and whatever their developers’ motivations, typically they aren’t trying to build businesses based entirely on freely-available, ad-supported content. That’s where Zoodles differs – Zoodles wouldn’t exist without the ability to aggregatate ad-supported content.

    Without question protecting children from inappropriate ads is an important matter and were Zoodles not doing it in such an imprecise, unethical and unsustainable fashion you would find much support. Instead you’re broadly stripping content creators of revenue without compensation in order to increase your own subscription profits. If Zoodles is sincere in professing to “care deeply” about the success of kids content creators you should do the right thing: either don’t include content that is ad-supported or seek permission from content producers before using their content.

    Comment by Paul Marcum — September 30, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  10. Sorry for delayed response… was out for a day and then buried in work for a couple days.

    @Kidvidkid:
    – The idea of offering parents the ability to filter out all “commercial content” is something we have been thinking about and it might be a path we pursue.

    – When it comes to small publishers we are driving meaningful traffic to these sites from users that have never heard of these sites, and we love promoting “hidden gems”… those great smaller sites that do a fantastic job of providing fun and educational experiences.

    – You stated that removing ads is intruding on the rights of the content producers. I would suggest that TiVo and DVRs generally speaking have already addressed this issue. These products allow you to “strip” out ads by fast forwarding through them. I would be willing to bet that either you or Paul are a happy DVR user and don’t feel like you are being unethical by fast forwarding through the ads. ;-)

    – As I have stated before, I am happy to talk to any content owner who wants to talk to us about our product.

    @Paul… you made a lot of points, so I am going to try and address them:
    – While we here at Zoodles don’t prove the viability of subscription models to parents / children, I believe that question was long ago answered by Club Penguin… 1 Million+ subscribers is proof in my book

    – I take offense to you stating that we are not acting responsibly or ethically. By your definition as I understand it, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, StumbleUpon, and hundreds of other web businesses are unethical for building a business on top of other sites’ content and not compensating them for it. Give me a break! Your argument here is laughable.

    Many of the most valuable businesses created online are those that aggregate web content and make it more valuable for users. This is what we are trying to do for young children and claiming that this is somehow like stealing satellite TV from the neighbor and reselling it demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the web works.

    Paul – by your definitions I would have to believe that you are telling me that you have never used a DVR or VCR to skip commercials, and that you never get up and go to the bathroom during a commercial break, since you would be somehow stealing from the content creators buy not subjecting yourself to their ads.

    We started Zoodles to create a better internet experience for children. One that is safe, fun and educational. We believe that the power of software will help enable incredible learning experiencing for children online, and we want to enable those experiences. My hope is that one day we won’t have parents *asking for ad-blocking* since they are scared of what their child might see online via ads.

    So when it comes to attacking our ethics, I suggest you first look in the mirror and ask yourself what motivations you have.

    Comment by mark — October 2, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

  11. Hi Mark –

    Absolutely Club Penguin proves the viability of the subscription business as they actually pay to produce the content available within their site. Zoodles however, does not.

    There are many important distinctions you fail to mention in referring to Google, Yahoo, etc that actually get to the heart of “how the web works”:

    1. If those sites aren’t actually licensing the content (like Yahoo! does through its media properties) they “compensate” publishers by generating monetizable traffic to their sites either through links within media aggregations or through links within search. You not only do not generate any monetizable trafffic to site publishers you actually do them one worse: by relying on the site publishers to host the content from which you are stripping the ads every visitor to their content within Zoodles actually costs the site publisher. Unlike the examples you cite, why doesn’t Zoodles try to generate monetizable traffic for site publishers? Why doesn’t Zoodles want to help site publishers cover their costs?

    2. Those sites give site publishers an opportunity to opt-out. If publishers think they’re getting a raw deal from Google they can just tell them “no thanks” or “do not crawl”. Why doesn’t Zoodles give publishers a choice of whether they are included in the service?

    3. Fair use. Even with the ability for publishers to opt-out (which Zoodles doesn’t provide) and even with the generation of monetizable traffic (which Zoodles doesn’t generate) Google and site publishers still often and famously disagree – many times in court – on what constitutes “fair use” (an appropriate amount of content to be excerpted as part of index). While what is considered fair use has varied, at no point have I seen anyone successful at defining it so broadly as to include the entire content of a page/video/game. Unlike the examples you cite, why is Zoodles entitled to include any content it wants?

    I absolutely support the creation of a better internet for children. However I also recognize that countless organizations and individuals dedicated to doing just that by creating outstanding content are also trying to generate revenue from advertising. I believe that if they want to change their revenue models it should be up to them, not you.

    While your customers may have asked you to provide an ad-free experience, it is the responsibility of a legitimate business to deliver (and price) features in a sustainable fashion. Unlike the aggregators you cite, you aren’t doing that. You are delivering zero value to the producers whose content you are using – starving them of revenue while they pay to host every page delivered through your premium service. If you’re so confident of the model, why not follow Google’s model and only include those who wish to be included?

    Comment by Paul Marcum — October 6, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  12. Oops – forgot that I agree with you on one point: I am absolutely a happy DVR user. But for nearly all DVR users your wish to compare Zoodles to DVR usage doesn’t hold up:
    1. Like nearly 90% of DVR users I pay my TV provider a monthly fee to rent the box.
    2. The carrier (in my case Verizon) takes a portion of what I pay them on a monthly basis and passes it on to the content creators as part of a carriage fee.
    3. If a user skips an ad (like DVR users do about 75% of time) on TV the costs are nominal – the MSO isn’t paying incremental streaming fees to carry the program (unlike the online publishers being used by Zoodles).

    Overall, while DVRs’ impact is still being absorbed by content producers, in the overwhelming number of households they’re being used in a “virtuous circle” where all parties are somehow compensated. This cannot be said of Zoodles.

    Comment by Paul Marcum — October 6, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

  13. And what I expect to be my final post here. You insinuate that I have a hidden motive for attacking Zoodles. If that were the case I would probably not have used my real name/linked to my site where you can click off to my employer and LinkedIn profile, but fine, I’ll remove any doubt/save anyone from having to click:

    My motivation for participating in this debate is obviously based on some industry experience. I’ve spent the last 10 odd years in the kids media industry, mostly at a globally known non-profit content producer but also at content aggregators both large and small. I know how hard it can be to make the numbers work as a producer and as a distributor. Despite your contention that some revenue doesn’t matter I can assure you that in this business there isn’t a dollar of revenue taken for granted. Particularly challenged within the ecosystem however, are the independent content producers and site publishers. Operating in a world dominated by three vertically-integrated powerhouses (Nick, Disney and Cartoon) and lately challenged for attention by an incredibly successful, non-monetizing aggregator (YouTube), the producers have found it quite difficult to survive. The last thing any of these businesses need is a parasite starving them of revenue while using their content without permission.

    Beyond the specific, measurable negative impact you’re having any time you strip ads without permission within Zoodles, you are of course making it harder for your competitors who are operating responsibly. Kidos.net and Kidzui.com both offer kid-safe browsing experiences but to my knowledge neither have taken the step of blocking ads without permission. Should they do so responsibly, they will have to price it in such a way that reflects the real costs of supplying ad-free content (as well as having to work with partners who are operating with lower margins as a result of Zoodles draining revenue from the content providers).

    While the expansion of subscription and freemium (what in the kids space could basically be called “TV show as 22 minute commercial for toy line”) models definitely present opportunities for content providers to move away from sponsorship, I’m afraid that Zoodles is doing nothing to help anyone along in that regard. If anything, by starving by producers of revenue you’re actually doing your best to remove access to free content from families, libraries and schools who can’t afford subscription fees. While you may be “proud” to have chosen this path, did you really think through the consequences? Is it really your intent to limit the amount of content available to children of limited means?

    While I appreciate that you have both published my opinions and engaged in a respectful discussion, I’ve been awed that an organization who claims to “care deeply” about kids content providers is so uniquely out to do them harm. If your next post here can’t be about how you’ve rethought your approach (and I really hope that it is), at least drop the false claims of concern.

    Comment by Paul Marcum — October 7, 2009 @ 11:47 am

  14. Paul,

    I am glad we agree that Club Penguin validates the subscription business model in this segment. There are also numerous other companies that have had great success without relying solely on advertising online (Webkinz, Disney, Nick, Starfall, etc.).

    Now I will move on to the many points I disagree with:

    – Your rebuttal to my DVR statement is factually incorrect. Companies that provide DVR services to consumers share ZERO of this incremental revenue with content producers. Distribution companies (Cable companies, Sat TV companies, etc.) pay content producers a per subscriber fee to carry the channel but that fee is 100% independent of the DVR status of a subscribers. Those content companies make money on the ads that are run during their shows, and skipping these ads hurt these content companies because it reduces the rate companies are willing to pay to advertise on TV. So there is no virtuous circle around DVR usage and content owners like you claim. Finally, you attempted to rationalize why it is ok for consumers to skip ads on the TV using a DVR by explaining the economic structure of the industry (which you got wrong), but since when does the the economic structure of an industry impact the rights of consumers? Given that content companies aren’t compensated based on DVR usage are you going to stop fast forwarding through commercials?

    – In rebuttal to my statement that many companies (Google, Yahoo, etc.) have built business on top of 3rd party content you stated that the traffic that these companies generate is monetizable while the traffic from Zoodles isn’t. That is flat out wrong. Again I point out that there are many more ways to generate revenue than just advertising. Our traffic is highly monetizable, you are simply focused on one specific revenue stream as opposed to all the other potential revenue streams. Your claim that our traffic can’t be monetized is symptomatic of the problem in this industry, lack of innovative thinking. It isn’t that traffic from Zoodles can’t be monetized, it clearly can be as my daughter who has used Zoodles for a long time now has created a strong affinity for many sites and properties that she otherwise would never have been exposed to, and we have spent real dollars on these new properties.

    I have spoken to hundreds of parents about how they use technology in their home and the internet in particular. The number one reason parents don’t put their children on the computer is because they are concerned about the safety of their children and they want more control over the content they are exposed to. By addressing these concerns for parents, we are actually GROWING the overall market opportunity for content producers since we are increasing not only the number of children that are online in the 8 and under age demographic, but we are also exposing them to a variety of sites that they would otherwise never have been exposed to.

    Zoodles is a *GREAT* thing for content producers and publishers because of this, and this is why *NOT ONE SINGLE COMPANY HAS REQUESTED TO BE REMOVED FROM ZOODLES*. Rather, we have constantly been approached by companies who want to be added to Zoodles because they see Zoodles as a great way to level the playing field and have their content shown to children in a level playing field.

    So let me say this explicitly, any company that wants their content removed from Zoodles can contact me: Mark [at] Zoodles DOT com. Based on what we have seen to date there are more than enough companies that would love to have more mind share from children and see the traffic as valuable.

    – You claim that we deliver zero value to producers and starve them of revenue. If that is the case why are producers constantly reaching out to us to be added to Zoodles? They clearly see value in having their content in front of children and they don’t have to do any marketing to get these users! They get the fact that we are a great product which expands their audience and that we are trying to grow the overall market size by making the internet a safe place for kids so parents are comfortable allowing children online. This is real value!

    – You claimed that Zoodles isn’t helping the shift to other business models. I strongly disagree with this. Again, we are bringing children online whose parents, before Zoodles, simply weren’t comfortable letting their kids play online. We are growing the market opportunity by increasing the addressable market. In addition to growing the market we are making content from small publishers visible to children who otherwise would have never seen their content. We are doing more than just about any other company to facilitate a healthy ecosystem as our data suggests that before Zoodles most children went to just a couple of sites (PBS, Disney, Nick, etc.) and now when they use Zoodles they are going to dozens of sites! This is meaningful incremental NEW traffic for these content producers.

    – Did we think through the consequences of the Zoodles ad-blocker before launching it… absolutely! We will make more and more parents comfortable putting their children online. These children will play on more sites than ever before, helping to grow the overall market opportunity. We will also protect thousands, if not millions, of children from inappropriate ads.

    I am happy to say that this conversation we are having has only reaffirmed my belief that what we have done is not only in the best interest of children and parents, but also in the best interest of the vast majority of content producers. We are going to make this market a huge market and expand the market opportunity for the little guys out there… the ones that really need the help.

    Zoodles is a service that offers much more in our premium offering than just ad-blocking. We also offer the ability for parents to:
    – promote games that focus on educational skills in subjects like math & reading
    – customize the sites and characters their children can play with
    – block specific types of content (like videos)
    – parental monitoring & reporting
    – and more….

    I am sincere in my desire to grow this market and to spur innovation that will result in better content for children so they can leverage the power of the internet and have fun while learning. Having said that, I never forget that my business is about creating value for children and parents first and foremost. There will be times, such as this one, where we will be forced to do things that might upset some people in the industry, but that will never stop us from doing what is best for children & parents.

    Paul – Every time you write a comment I attempt to address every point you raise. I have yet to have you answer the questions I have raised multiple times… so I would love to hear your thoughts on the following questions:

    – Why do you think content owners / publishers have resorted to advertising as a model when it comes to monetizing traffic from young children?

    – Why are inappropriate ads are being run next to games / content for children?

    – Do you think the industry is doing enough to protect children from inappropriate ads?

    – What type of filtering process do you think most content owners / distributors use to determine what ads to show to young children?

    – Do you think most advertisers actually know their ads are being shown to children under 8 years old?

    – What value is derived from showing ads for new cars or mortgages to a 5 year old?

    Comment by mark — October 7, 2009 @ 9:30 pm

  15. Hi Mark –

    Actually my DVR rebuttal was factually correct. While my decision to rent DVR from my MSO may not specifically trigger an incremental payment to the channel providers, Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), inclusive of DVR revenue, absolutely drives what MSOs are able to pay channel providers. So while the ad revenue may be at risk (broadcast channel ad rev is down but cable channel ad rev is actually up), there are other revenues coming into the system and being spread among the partners (this is analogous to the theatrical film business – theaters don’t make much off the tickets but make money off concessions – ultimately it works for everyone). While the dollar shift is needless to say anxiety-producing for content providers, the numbers have to work for both the MSOs (and keep in mind that MSOs sell ads too) and the content providers or the whole business blows up. This is different from Zoodles where you take content without permission and strip it of revenue.

    Which leads me to my next point, I think it’s fantastic that you have finally decided to let content providers opt-out if they don’t want to participate and even better that you now see an opportunity to help the “little guy”. However, it’s about halfway to what I’ve simply asked for all along: so long as you are blocking ads – denying producers of revenue while still causing them to incur the hosting costs – this really needs to be opt-in. It’s easy to increase the “addressable market” when no one is paying for the content and the content providers aren’t asked for permission first. You can send content producers all kinds of traffic but so long as it’s not monetizable (because you’re stripping the ads) you’re basically just looting the store. If you’re going to truly respect the operations of the “little guys”, the smaller content producers who you now seek to help and on whom you rely, you should get their permission first. If your promotional value can off-set the lost revenue I’m sure many will indeed sign up for it. If not, then you may have less content but at least you truly will be proving a model (and may even increase that “addressable market” legitimately).

    I’ve said it before in reference to your advertising questions: they are a source of eternal debate in the kids content community and I hope you can understand how you asking them can appear as a bit of a dodge. Given that you’re offering now to remove content on request, and hopeful that you’ll soon make it fully opt-in, I’ll do my best given a limited amount of time.

    First question: Why have content producers resorted to this? To boil down the last 40 years of the industry (Sesame first aired in 1969) to a few bullet points:
    1. People want access to (and I would argue “should have access to” in the case of educational) content without having to pay for it.
    2. The government does not fully fund content. I can tell you firsthand that at least two of the PBS shows whose content you promote in your latest newsletter were only partially funded by broadcast fees.
    3. While licensing revenue can obviously be significant you have to recognize:
    A. If a show doesn’t have a merchandise tie-in it’s now highly unlikely that it will get/stay on the air. It wasn’t always this way. You seem to think that this effective product placement is OK but a lot of folks don’t, like the fans of many shows no longer on the air because the numbers no longer worked and they wouldn’t change the format to introduce an action figure.
    B. Even with every attempt to make characters who will be coveted by kids, licensing revenues aren’t guaranteed and typically follow the success of a show. This means that producers rely on nearer-term sources of funding, typically sponsorship and international sales.
    C. The dominant forces in the kids business sell both ads and merchandise and if your revenue sources aren’t competitive you will lose. They can outspend on new creative, they can absorb ad-free initiatives, they can sustain programming that takes a while to find its audience.
    D. While there are definitely toy companies out there that have created wonderful brand extensions online and maintained them ad-free, keep in mind that they typically cost money to join.

    So to answer your question: many producers, particularly educational ones, have come to rely on advertising because they *had to* and many of their shows have been successful despite the ads because parents and kids valued the content enough to accept that it needed to be funded somehow.

    Next question: Inappropriate ads. First, you have to remember that no publisher wants to run ads that are inappropriate for their audience – it only weakens the content experience. So while you may think publishers are being sloppy or exploitative that’s likely not the case. Here are a few of the more common reasons:
    1. Behavioral Targeting and Co-viewing: the publisher is running an ad network that thinks they have successfully targeted a parent but the child is now using the computer. Or maybe not. In the case of some viewing the parent may very well be there with the child.
    2. Inefficient systems: Keep in mind that not all ad networks provide publishers with the ability to review creative before it goes live. These networks have largely been built for broader audiences that will do categorical blocks (alcohol, tobacco, etc) but sometimes that’s not good enough. This particularly gets tricky with retailers and entertainment where the products featured can vary widely.

    A good question to ask here may be “why are these systems so inefficient?” Well, because the vast majority of kids online advertising is placed through direct sales to the big publishers, not ad networks. The “little guys” are usually too small to do direct sales (from both a staffing and inventory perspective) and therefore have to rely on tools that are less than ideal.

    Regardless of delivery inefficiencies, the bottom line remains: no ads, no free content. If Zoodles is serious about helping the “little guys”, proving a new model and delivering value it will ask permission from publishers before stripping their ads.

    Comment by Paul Marcum — October 13, 2009 @ 8:16 am

  16. this a wonderful ideal that we can teach are kids and in my case i can teach my grandkids and keep them safe on line thank you lavonne crouse

    Comment by lavonne crouse — January 26, 2010 @ 10:21 am

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