It’s no secret that Youtube isn’t exactly the best place for animators these days. From radical shifts in the algorithm to unfriendly policy changes, animation channels have had it rough. Youtube’s latest method of making things difficult for animators stems from its habit of forcing random animated videos to be marked as “Made for Kids,” seemingly only because the video in question features animation and children-friendly characters.
Amongst the channels they’ve seemingly targeted in order to force this designation is the Sonic animation channel Balena Productions. They’ve been going after Balena since last year, marking several of their videos as “made for kids.” Balena’s latest video, their “Sonic in Scared Stupid: The Final Chapter” preview video, was hit by this not long after it was uploaded. You can check it out below, but be forewarned, this “kids” video features a werehog zombie with its flesh falling off:
So, why is this such a big deal? Videos hit by this designation have their ability to do well in Youtube’s algorithm neutered, while also having their comments disabled, and existing comments deleted. And as a side effect, videos that clearly aren’t made with kids in mind end up finding their way into Youtube’s supposedly kid-friendly app, effectively defeating the purpose of the whole thing.
To give you an idea of how targeted towards animation this is, even our own Youtube has been affected by this, with most of our uploads focusing on animation from the games forcibly being marked “Made for Kids.” The latest video of ours to be hit by this was our off-screen recording of Sonic Superstars’ animated opening. Our other off-screen recordings of the game remain untouched.
But what is a minor annoyance for us can be apocalyptic for channels like Balena Productions, which relies on their channel’s ad revenue to fund their animations. Since MFK videos do very poorly in Youtube’s algorithm, that limits a video’s views, and thus its ability to generate revenue, affecting a channel’s ability to survive. Of course, when a video is marked MFK, it can be appealed, both through Youtube’s built-in appeal system and through Twitter, but these appeals are often rejected, sometimes within minutes of the appeal being made. Anyone who follows Balena on Twitter is probably familiar with how this typically goes with Team Youtube at this point. They’ve sometimes managed to get the designation removed from a video, but it’s always a fight.
What’s especially strange about all this is that it even goes against Youtube’s own policies, as Balena has pointed out. Specifically, videos made for “everyone” aren’t required to bear this designation. Balena’s videos are not usually brimming with cursing and gore, but they are very much something made for general audiences, something many of their videos note at their start (though this doesn’t always save them.)
So…what can be done about this? Well, you can check out the marked videos for one, like the ones we embedded above. You can also watch older videos and like, comment, and subscribe on the affected channels. You can see what Steven Page had to say about this at his Sonic Revolution panel here.
In the meantime, Youtube’s policy adds even more uncertainty and stress to animation Youtubers who are typically already dealing with a lot. On Twitter, Page has increasingly indicated that, due to Youtube’s policies, continuing to make these animations is becoming untenable. He may be near the end of his rope, “For the past week since the teaser was flagged, I’ve had a migraine and mild panic attacks. I also haven’t been sleeping much, and I feel numbness traveling through my body. It’s a ton of pressure to even stand up to these creeps, and it’s not worth it anymore.”
Hopefully, YouTube will eventually change this strange policy. The whole point of Youtube Kids is to make Youtube compliant to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (or COPPA). Something tells me that forcing videos featuring zombified hedgehogs and a violent video game death to be made for kids doesn’t exactly make them COPPA compliant. Youtube’s community of animators deserve better than this.