This page is chapter 1 in a five-chapter series of app categories included in our report Living and learning in a digital world on children’s digital habits during the year 2021.

RESEARCH BY APP CATEGORY

Online
   video

digital learning online video

What we found for online video apps

As online video platforms pushed content spending to record heights of $220 billion globally, 2021 was yet another year where the streaming wars were in full swing, as both key players and niche subscription platforms invested heavily in original content to satisfy an ever-hungry audience. For the ever-competitive streaming sector, one of the many secrets to growth lies behind capturing young eyes: Disney Plus, launched only two years ago, experienced astronomical growth across 2021, finishing the year with 118.1 million subscribers worldwide.

In 2021, the time kids spent streaming online video content dipped by 16%, with the 60-minute highs of the 2020 lockdowns vanishing from view. While children spent less time on old favorites YouTube and Twitch, they were happy to invest extra minutes elsewhere. For children in a world more connected than ever before, another key factor in securing loyal viewers and subscribers is investing in a diverse content library. This interest in global content is reflected in some of the once-niche streaming services children are now using: time spent using anime streaming platform Crunchyroll (46 mins/day) and Asian drama platform Rakuten Viki (48 mins/day) increased across 2021.

THE MOST POPULAR KIDS STREAMING SERVICES

As online video platforms pushed content spending to record heights of $220 billion globally, 2021 was yet another year where the streaming wars were in full swing, as both key players and niche subscription platforms invested heavily in original content to satisfy an ever-hungry audience. For the ever-competitive streaming sector, one of the many secrets to growth lies behind capturing young eyes: Disney Plus, launched only two years ago, experienced astronomical growth across 2021, finishing the year with 118.1 million subscribers worldwide.  

In 2021, the time kids spent streaming online video content dipped by 16%, with the 60-minute highs of the 2020 lockdowns vanishing from view. While children spent less time on old favorites YouTube and Twitch, they were happy to invest extra minutes elsewhere. For children in a world more connected than ever before, another key factor in securing loyal viewers and subscribers is investing in a diverse content library. This interest in global content is reflected in some of the once-niche streaming services children are now using: time spent using anime streaming platform Crunchyroll (46 mins/day) and Asian drama platform Rakuten Viki (48 mins/day) increased across 2021.

most popular online video apps
most popular online video apps
most popular online video apps

HOW MUCH TIME DID CHILDREN SPEND STREAMING IN 2021?

On a global level, YouTube was the monarch of online content for yet another year, engaging kids worldwide for 56 mins/day. Despite claiming the top spot, overall kids spent 13% less time on YouTube than they did in 2020, while in Spain, viewership fell by 26%, down 10 mins/day from 38 to 28. 

 Despite climbing to new heights in 2021, with 2.84 million global users and 9 million livestreamers worldwide, our analysis showed that children spent less time on Twitch throughout the year, with children spending 7 mins/day less using the service than they did in 2020. Amazon Prime Video also experienced a slight decline globally, down 9% in 2021 from 44 mins/day to 40 mins/day.

The only streaming platforms in the top 5 to experience global growth were Disney Plus, up 2% from 46 mins/day to 47 mins/day, and Netflix, up 18% overall from 38 mins/day to 45 mins/day. In the US, this increase in numbers for Netflix intensified, with children spending 32% longer on Netflix (37 mins/day to 49). Conversely, in Spain, the upward trend reversed for Disney Plus, with streaming on the platform decreasing by 15%, down 7 mins/day from 48 to 41. to 47 mins/day, and Netflix, up 18% overall from 38 mins/day to 45 mins/day. In the US, this increase in numbers for Netflix intensified, with children spending 32% longer on Netflix (37 mins/day to 49). Conversely, in Spain, the upward trend reversed for Disney Plus, with streaming on the platform decreasing by 15%, down 7 mins/day from 48 to 41.

online video
most popular online video apps
most popular online video apps
online video apps
online video apps
most popular online video apps

THE MOST BLOCKED STREAMING SERVICES IN 2021

The most blocked streaming services in 2021 remained largely the same as those blocked by parents in 2020, with only one newcomer, Hulu, replacing Amazon Prime Video. YouTube remained the most popular blocking option for families, both globally and in every country analyzed, reflecting its top position in the popularity charts for kids. 

 

As in the global rankings for 2020, Netflix and Twitch were the second and third most blocked services, with parents in every country making the same decision for 2021. Despite not appearing in the popularity charts, YouTube Kids remained on the block list, perhaps as a result of children spending 79 mins/day on the platform.

THE MOST BLOCKED STREAMING SERVICES IN 2021

The most blocked streaming services in 2021 remained largely the same as those blocked by parents in 2020, with only one newcomer, Hulu, replacing Amazon Prime Video. YouTube remained the most popular blocking option for families, both globally and in every country analyzed, reflecting its top position in the popularity charts for kids. As in the global rankings for 2020, Netflix and Twitch were the second and third most blocked services, with parents in every country making the same decision for 2021. Despite not appearing in the popularity charts, YouTube Kids remained on the block list, perhaps as a result of children spending 79 mins/day on the platform.

most popular online video apps

Compared to 2020, where children spent a large chunk of their day streaming content in the earlier months of the year due to stay-at-home orders and lockdowns, daily time spent on online video largely stabilized across 2021. Average daily levels decreased overall, with the biggest changes in the US and Spain, where children reduced their streaming screen time by 13% and 26% respectively. Daily streaming levels rose gradually during the summer months in the countries we explored, but peaked at the end of the year, with children in the US tuning in for 51 mins/day in December.

What we expect for online video

The age of streaming has arrived, and with it, access to on-demand content has quickly become the norm. We expect the hunger for global content to grow, for adults and children alike, encouraging streaming platforms to continue diversifying their international libraries. 

With parents reporting that their children more frequently tune in to streaming services rather than conventional TV, the online video giants will no doubt begin to focus heavily on family-friendly content. After all, the family that’s entertained together, subscribes together. 

In the future of streaming services, capturing kids’ attention and their loyalties before they’re directed elsewhere will be the first foot over the finish line. As online streaming and live streaming become more geared towards younger subscribers, time spent on streaming services will continue to replace time in front of more “conventional” TV as we know it. While kids’ content was once a bonus for adult subscribers, as a means to keep their children entertained, it’s now a key driver for streaming services to gain new users of all ages.

Tricks to capture these young eyes are already being employed across some of the streaming platform apps. In 2021, Netflix tested a TikTok style feed for kids, displaying child-friendly content in a short clip format, which allows users to save the featured show to their watch list. Kidoodle.TV and Sling TV are just two of the many streaming services now publishing only kid-friendly content in an attempt to attract new subscribers. As a result of the rising demand for family entertainment, we expect to see more shows aimed at kids – particularly younger children – become more accessible across all streaming services.

What we recommend for online video

As time spent on streaming services becomes more prevalent, as opposed to watching TV in the more “traditional” sense, it’s important for parents to pay attention to the quality of content being consumed, rather than the quantity. Through increased access to unlimited, on-demand content, kids may be exposed to violent or sexual content, which can cause harm to developing minds.

There’s no magic answer for how long children should spend streaming series and movies, as so much depends on how old the child is, their emotional maturity, and how they are able to balance school life with their personal use of technology. For children of all ages, co-watching is an essential tool for families, allowing parents to understand the type of content their kids enjoy, and to bond as a family through shared interests. Co-watching is the ideal, but it isn’t always possible – and for parents of older children, they may value a certain level of freedom to consume the series and movies they choose. 

To help limit exposure to inappropriate, inaccurate, and dangerous content, many streaming services now offer native parental control features. These features can often be minimal and vary heavily from service to service, making it hard for parents to use them correctly – and making it easier for harmful content to slip through the cracks. For restrictions that help keep children safe and entertained, we recommend teaming native parental controls with some co-watching, and an independent parental control tool, to help manage overall screen time and block access to inappropriate apps. 

What I like about technology is social media, and Netflix and Disney Plus. Because basically, you disconnect from everything - you sit and watch videos or watch a movie on Netflix, and that's it.
- Girl, 13, Spain
online video

When it comes to livestream video apps, such as Twitch, there is little limit as to what children can come across when engaging on the platform. 

Blocking apps and streaming services where little control can be administered over the content is one option parents have to help keep children away from risky livestreams.

Finally, working to encourage intentional viewing is something that both adults and children should strive for. Parents can disable autoplay and set limits on streaming apps to discourage the endless scroll and the automatic transition from one video to the next. The ideal setup varies from family to family, but overall, promoting video and movie time as a family activity can be a great way to help kids manage the time they spend streaming. 

Everything is at your fingertips, you can watch videos, learn to cook, watch movies, you can travel the world, read books, and you can do everything on technology.
- Boy, 13, UK