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How the new EU data privacy laws change the kids and teens ad market forever

The coverage of the new EU data privacy legislation for kids in Europe mostly focused on the requirement of parents to approve kids signing up to social sites and services.

Almost everyone has missed the more profound impact: the new data laws will remove behavioural and programmatic advertising from the kids and teens media market across Europe.

In the US, the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) has required all online advertising to kids under-13 to be done without cookies or identifiers. This legislation happened about two years ago and pushed the mainstream adtech companies and platforms out of the space and essentially created a new category: kid-safe advertising.

The same thing is about to happen in the EU. As we saw with COPPA, the definition of personally identifiable information goes far beyond an email address.

There are a couple of points of context;

Firstly, this is not a temporary adjustment. The proposed EU laws are part of a (generally under-reported) mega-trend: the firewalling of kids Internet activity from the data-gathering nature of technology. Although the US leads the charge in this area, political sentiment has not yet settled there either; a few weeks ago, Delaware extended certain aspects of COPPA from thirteen to eighteen in order to create “the safest state in America for kids to use the Internet”. Yes, you read that correctly, eighteen.

Secondly, timing is not good for incumbent media companies. This massive change comes at a point when the kids media market is going through a systemic shift away from TV. The kids industry has held onto TV for longer than any other audience but in the last eighteen months the decline in viewing has been undeniable. Most data shows 80 per cent of kids with access to a tablet and they are now displacing TVs (and indeed consoles) as the household entertainment hubs. Viacom’s reported viewship for Nickelodeon declined 34 per cent in Q1 2015.

Who does this hurt most? Probably the generalists who have a toe in the kids/teens advertising sector. Two groups in particular seem obvious: 1) games ad networks who focus heavily on the teen market using programmatic and 2) generic ad sales houses which operate in the teen space.

As this law goes into effect, for the countries which choose a higher age threshhold, teen advertising will be solely content-contextual, requiring new technology and, as we saw in the US, a huge retrenching by the profile-driven adtech companies. As we have also seen in the US, the days of fly-by-night ad sales houses handling advertising for kids (and now teens) digital content will soon be gone. If you are active in this space in any capacity, I suggest you start your audit process now.

For chief marketing officers of brands which operate in this market, 2016 is going to be busy. Over the last twelve months I have already seen several international brands start to roll out COPPA’s contextual-only requirements to global partners. Several others have quietly started auditing around the kid-safe point.

Although this requirement undoubtedly requires new investment and understanding of what is possible, many top-level chief marketing executives have already accepted this as an operating requirement.

In this market, the standard of advertising partners (agencies, platforms etc) will start to come under much more scrutiny from 2016. This is certainly not fatal. As has happened in the US, the entire kid-safe market has become a completely separate ecosystem with specific ad platforms, standards and media buying certifications.

The EU decision will seem like anti-business to many. In truth the legislation is not anti-advertising, simply anti data-collection.

In the US, kid-safe advertising is growing by 50-100 per cent annually, driven by the companies who have invested in new contextual technology platforms.

Although the EU’s decision to extend the age limit was a shock to everyone, it at least creates a more consistent technical playing field for the digital ad market to function effectively across the US and EU. The under-13 digital media market was already on track to reach around $2.5bn by 2018.

The EU’s extension of the age threshhold potentially doubles this, depending on how countries implement. For digital content owners in this audience vertical, this is extremely good news.

Dylan Collins is chief executive at digital kids startup SuperAwesome

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