Why this kids’ show host removed his videos from YouTube

Not so long ago, shows like “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street” were the main entertainment options for younger kids, and a TV was the only way to see them. limited, it was easy for parents to decide what to let kids watch, and before the days of streaming, scheduled programming made it easy to turn a show on or off.

Over the years, the youth media landscape has undergone a transformation on many levels. First, there were more shows, and not all of them with early childhood development experts behind the scenes creating useful characters and lessons. And with the emergence of streaming and the age of kids watching videos on tablets and on their parents’ phones, there has been an explosion of content on YouTube and other social media platforms aimed at toddlers. small.

So what is the impact of all these streaming videos on young minds? And how can parents and educators ensure that the mix of what children see is healthy?

Danny LaBrecque has been digging into these questions lately. He’s the creator and host of his own long-running preschool series, called “Danny Joe’s Tree House,” and he says he’s trying to do something in the tradition of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” but at YouTube era LaBrecque says it’s been tough, even with 20 years of early childhood development experience behind him, including time as a preschool teacher.

Over the past few months, he has interviewed prominent figures in children’s media and early childhood development about recent changes in the children’s media industry and how to navigate them. He calls his series of interviews – which he posts on Vimeo for families and educators – “Cookies for Breakfast” because he worries that algorithm-based platforms like YouTube are creating a media landscape that can give kids that whatever they want – as in, a child can choose a cookie as a breakfast food, but that’s not what they need to get rich.

To stay true to her vision, and more importantly, her audience, LaBrecque recently made the decision to pull her show from YouTube and Facebook. EdSurge got the chance to catch up with LaBrecque on what he learned from his interviews and why he’s pulling his show from YouTube and Facebook. EdSurge recently had a chance to catch up with him to find out why.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher or anywhere you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page. Or read a partial transcript below, slightly edited for clarity.

EdSurge: How did you get started doing a show for little kids?

Danny La Brecque: Like many kids of my generation, I’m 45 now, I grew up on TV.

My parents were dealing with a lot of things – an illness came to our family. My mother fell very ill with cancer that lasted our entire childhood. She survived there for over 30 years, and we learned many good lessons from her perseverance. But there were definitely times when my family needed support. And for us, the caregivers on the other side of the TV screen showed up every day of the week and had quality affirmation readily available. A daily message of “I’m not going to sell you anything. I’m just here to be with you. People like “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” was my favorite, but also Bob Keeshan, Lavar Burton and Shari Lewis.

And later I found out they were real. They played no role. They were real carers, they thought. They were putting on a bit of a show, but ultimately they really cared about the people on the other side of the screen.

Later in my life, I became an early childhood educator and watched what many of my children were getting on their screens. And I was thinking about what they were getting in their actual experiences in their daily lives. It was regular development stages, but also heavier stuff. Many of the children I worked with in Chicago, when I was teaching preschool, faced primary and secondary experiences of gun violence, abuse, racism, and religious discrimination – all of which we tend to not to associate with very young children, but it absolutely affects many children. And the stuff they were getting on their screens was great, but it was more of a distraction. I haven’t seen many of these same types of caregivers. These types of [TV show] caregivers disappeared.

And what the kids were becoming more leaned on the distribution side – selling the cartoons, or if it was a real human being, was it a human that looked like a kid, or looked like a cartoon or a clown. It wasn’t really a sincere commitment.

So how long ago did you start your show, Danny Joe’s Tree House?

We are approaching our 20th anniversary of development point.

You recently extracted your videos from YouTube and Facebook. Why?

It’s such a hard call because [YouTube] is such an easy way to build numbers, and numbers seem to be so big in the kids’ media industry right now. When I start a show, I’m often asked, “What’s your story?” ” What is your objective ? ‘What is the learning objective?’ Before all that: ‘How big is your audience?’ “What is your distribution potential? » What can we sell through you? »

There has always been a struggle between distribution and content, but content drove much more. And hopefully we’ll come back to that.

And with YouTube, I got emails from parents saying, “Hey, my kid really liked watching your episodes. And then all of a sudden the algorithm led them to what we thought was an inappropriate video. for their age group, or strange advertisements appeared.

I think it’s telling that if you even look at the YouTube kids app in the description, there’s a line that says something like “No platform is perfect. Sometimes inappropriate content sneaks in, but we continue to do our best. If it was on the letterhead of a day care center – that “we’re doing our best, but sometimes inappropriate things will happen” – that’s problematic. But you know, it’s your option for a lot of people. It’s free, it’s accessible. And it can be a wonderful outlet. But if it only hurts a child, it’s just very problematic.

Can you give an example of something inappropriate that you saw popping up that the algorithm recommended to a child watching your show on YouTube?

There was a very specific example for “Danny Joe’s Treehouse”. All my episodes are very light. We’re talking about social issues, but we’re doing it through a dream, Rogers’ imaginary filter, and we have puppets. I got an email from a parent who was letting his kids watch it during quarantine, and out of nowhere the algorithm led them to another host looking for live action with some kind of kid background green screen. And he was telling knock, knock jokes – knock, knock jokes suitable for children. But at the punchline, he was slapping himself, smiling and carrying on. It was strange.

Weird stuff happens on YouTube. And I think a lot of times creators will say, ‘well, the stuff that’s going to get me the most reaction, if I look at the algorithm and the tags, tends to lean towards the kid stuff and the shocking stuff. And if you can combine these two things together, you will have more success.

[But to me] it was a breach of trust that I have tried very hard over the years to establish with my audience.

Now we’re on Kidoodle TV, the secure streaming platform, which has no algorithms – everything is reviewed by humans. And we recently got picked up by Sensical, which is a brand new platform backed by Common Sense Media, and again it’s being reviewed by humans.

You mentioned being inspired by Fred Rogers. What do you think he would think about what’s going on with streaming shows on YouTube?

I certainly studied Fred Rogers in detail, and Margaret McFarland, and I have mentors who worked directly with Fred Rogers. But even with this level of understanding of technique and method, I would never pretend to know what Fred Rogers would think or say.

But I know that in the past, history shows us that Fred Rogers didn’t like TV at all. I mean, it was mass communication, novelty, he hated it. The only reason he got into it was that he didn’t like it.

The old story is that he saw slapstick. He saw people throwing pies in their faces and he thought, “What? Why do we use this amazing communication device for things like this? So instead of going to be a Presbyterian minister to study that, he went to NBC to be a stage manager and slowly learned the trade there. So I guess the perspective was: go where the kids are and try to make changes from within.

I personally try to follow this type of lead. But at the same time, some of these systems are so complex and messy that it’s hard to fix them from the inside.

Here is the rest of the interview on the podcast.

Javier E. Swan