Spotify now has 248 million monthly active users, but how many of them are children? We don’t know, and neither does Spotify: its minimum age varies across the world, but the lowest is 13 years old with parent or guardian consent.
Anecdotally, though, plenty of parents have ignored this stipulation and added under-13s to their family plan subscriptions – not least to keep their own recommendation algorithms free of any ‘Baby Shark’ or ‘Let It Go’ influence.
Today, Spotify is offering an official way for those children to listen to its service. It’s launching a new app called Spotify Kids, designed to be used by children aged three and up, as part of the existing Spotify Premium Family plan. The new app launches in beta in Ireland tomorrow, with plans to roll it out elsewhere soon.
The app will include no advertising, because it’s part of the family subscription, but also because as YouTube and TikTok have already found out, collecting children’s personal data for advertising purposes is being cracked down on by the Federal Trade Commission in the US, among other regulators.
Spotify also says that the music, stories and other audio content in the Spotify Kids app is being “handpicked” by editors to be appropriate for children, with two modes – ‘Audio for Younger Kids’ and ‘Audio for Older Kids’ – which parents can choose between. The former focuses on “singalongs, lullabies and soundtracks”, while the latter is more focused on tracks and playlists. Podcasts are not part of the app at launch, but will follow at a later point.
The messaging around Spotify’s announcement is long and carefully-worded, and that’s a sensible strategy by the company. As YouTube (with YouTube Kids), Facebook (with Messenger Kids) and Amazon (with Echo Dot Kids Edition) have found, when a big technology company launches a product specifically for children, it’ll be scrutinised closely by journalists, campaigners and politicians alike, for any problematic aspects.
“We acknowledge that having a standalone app specifically for kids is a new space for Spotify, which is why we are launching this product as a beta. We will expand the Spotify Kids app experience over time as we continue to incorporate best practices and learnings, including insights from parents, caregivers and other experts in this space,” announced Spotify in its reveal of the Spotify Kids beta.
The company says its curation team for Spotify Kids has been recruited from the likes of Nickelodeon, Disney, Discovery Kids and Universal Pictures, as well as Public Service in Sweden and Swedish audiobooks service BookBeat, which launched its own app for children in January 2019.
(The ‘handpicked’ element of this team’s work is important: Spotify is stressing that Spotify Kids takes a white-list approach – “Every single song and story on the Kids app is personally vetted and handpicked”. That swerves one of the key past criticisms of YouTube Kids, which launched with a combination of human and algorithmic curation, but saw some inappropriate videos sneak through the latter filter.)
Spotify is publishing an interview with its chief premium business officer Alex Norström today, outlining more of the company’s thinking.
“Kids consuming audio content, such as music and stories, isn’t a new phenomenon – in fact, they love it. But most audio experiences were built with adults in mind – meaning they’re not simple, easy or fun for young kids to use,” he said.
“Spotify has spent more than two years learning about this space, and we’ll continue to learn as people begin to interact with the app. We have gathered expert insight from a number of organisations and conducted our own studies with parents around the world and tapped into our Employee Resource Groups here at Spotify.”
The wider trend here is children’s continued appetite for music in the streaming era. Just this morning, Music Ally was reporting on a new study by Common Sense Media in the US, based on a survey of 8-18 year-olds.
Among its findings: 47% of American ‘tweens’ (8-12 year-olds) listen to music every day – behind only watching online videos (56%) and watching TV (63%) according to the study – and they average 43 minutes a day.
Spotify Kids will be competing with YouTube Kids, which includes music. Deezer launched its own ‘Deezer Kids’ feature back in November 2015, as part of its family plan, while in April 2018 startup Fruit Punch Music billed itself as ‘Spotify for Kids’ with a subscription-based app.