YouTube Kids' Channels are supposedly aimed at children 8 years or younger, and usually try to pass as Edutainment. Though YouTube has hosted videos targeted to kids since its beginning, this new (and infamous) breed emerged in 2013-2017.
While they are notorious for their lack of budget and unprofessional nature, some are widely infamous among parents and adults in general for their content that is rather inappropriate for their Target Audience, such as not-so-subtle Vulgar Humor, Family-Unfriendly Violence, Nightmare Fuel (with bits of a Widget Series taken to even weirder levels) and just plain weirdness. A large majority of them feature at least a few popular copyrighted and trademarked cartoon characters from whatever is most popular with kids at the time, often without researching them. Mickey Mouse, Elsa from Frozennote (the reason the channels are known as "Elsagate" to the mass media) and Spider-Man are the most popular characters used in these videos, much to the disgust of other YouTubers who see these videos.
The videos are notable for raking in millions of views very easily, sometimes within a matter of days, but just why they do stumps adults. One argument is that they're bots but another argument is that they are popular with kids who are just too young to click on something else. YouTube has a popular "YouTube Kids" app that is full of these videos (though attempts have been made to fix this). As a result, the videos likely auto-play and thus rack up views. Comments on these videos will usually be gibberish or simple feedback from alleged viewers.
The origin of this trend is hard to tell. A potential origin is normal toy channels that role-played with dolls. Someone eventually decided to start cosplaying characters in videos, it caught on, and the whole trend began. It seems like YouTube has wised up to the fad, as many of these channels have since been deleted— presumably for their inappropriate content and/or unauthorized use of copyrighted and trademarked characters. If you find a surviving channel or archived channels, be forewarned as Sturgeon's Law is in full effect with these videos.
- "Educational Concept" videos: The most popular ones. A very simplistic and formulaic genre of videos meant to teach educational concepts, such as the alphabet, numbers, and colors, by using stock art of popular kids' characters. The most popular kind of such videos are "Finger Family", featuring disembodied hands swaying to the "Finger Family" nursery rhyme and with heads of the characters attached to the fingers. Some are well-known for using very off and definitely child-unappealing things, such as Adolf Hitler.note "Educational Concept" videos are suspected by some to be created by computer bots who will use whatever's popular.
- Toy Reviews: Many YouTube channels genuinely review toys, however a good chunk fall into this because they "review" things by a loose definition. They mostly play with the toys and pretend it's a review. There's some overlap between this and similar videos like "Unboxing videos" and "Kinder egg videos", but the latter two do have more genuine channels.
- Animation Videos: The most infamous format by far. They're low-quality Web Animation usually either made with Adobe Flash or rendered in shoddy CGInote based on popular juvenile properties. A number of these videos have also utilised machinima as well, the most prominent of which are those using mods from Grand Theft Auto V of all things, despite the game itself being already age-inappropriate as it is (especially with its Single-Player mode). Their usual style is a Super-Deformed-esque art-style, no dialogue except for stock sound effects, plots that will make no sense even to adults, and, of course, lots of questionable and age-inappropriate topics and themes, but they'll still label themselves as "educational".
- Live-Action Skits: Similar to Animation Videos, but are filmed in live action and star people dressed up as characters from works popular with kids, commonly superheroes and superheroines.
- Nursery Rhymes: While many, if not most, are mundane web-animations aimed at little kids, quite a few lean into this category. The most infamous are the "Johnny Johnny Yes Papa" videos about a boy trying to eat sugar without his father knowing. That trend began in 2009, when the video "Nursery Rhymes Johnny Johnny Yes Papa Songs with lyrics for PreSchool Kids" was uploaded by Shemrock.
Note: Regardless of the trope name, not all kids' channels count. Most are quite innocent, and some manage to be surprisingly good. YouTube Kids' Channels refers to the infamous variant.
- "Webs & Tiaras", a now-terminated Canadian channel that began in March 2016 and became YouTube's third most-viewed channel in two months with about 1.7 billion views. It featured live-action skits, most infamously the Spider-Man × Elsa videos (illustrated above), and was the subject of a Guardian article that brought the trend into the spotlight.
- "BillionSurpriseToys - Nursery Rhymes & Songs" is one of the more famous channels for bringing "Johhny Johnny" to the mainstream. In 2018, their animations caught on and became memetic. The video that made them famous, their original "Johnny Johnny" video, has since been deleted, but they have various other derivatives.
- "DisneyCarToys" is one of the oldest examples, dating back to 2012. It started out as a relatively tame example where videos generally consisted of adults playing and role-playing with dolls.
- The channel "KiddyMoonSongs" seems to be the origin of the Finger Family Video with this video. It at minimum kick-started the trend.
- "Hey Kids!" was a channel that was terminated because of its content. It claimed to essentially be a babysitting channel where parents could let their kids watch videos to pass time, however it was more sinister. Unlike many channels, it was obviously run by a person who spoke to the kids. The channel used a large-eyed avatar with human lips and a mouth. The avatar was demeaning and frequently made fun of kids for various things, such as their inability to brush their teeth properly or say their ABCs. It also featured women who sung rhymes and such. What caused the channel's termination was videos featuring Hitler babbling about "Mighty AI 2.0" and literally saying "Heil Hitler".
- "TOYS In Japan" is the most well-known Finger Family channel. It also produces videos for the Ten Little Monkeys nursery rhyme. Some videos on the channel are "5 Little HITLERS Jumping On The Bed", "HITLER Vs MICKEY MOUSE Finger Family Video", and "DONALD TRUMP - DINOSAUR ANKYLOSAURUS CANDY WALKING Finger Family" (all with the capslock in the title).
- "My Pingu TV" (now known as "English Fairy Tales"), a channel from India featuring animated fairy tales, made the news thanks to a video called Dina and the Prince in which an angel named Dina is forbidden from speaking with the prince that she loves, but does so anyway and is punished by being turned into a black woman with a scarred face and curly hair, which is explicitly said to be "ugly", while her previous pale-skinned and straight-haired appearance is said to be "beautiful" - not something you'd want impressionable kids to take to heart. At least they did apologize and remove the video.
- "Runforthecube" is a troll example. It's a channel of "toy reviews" that went viral due to an infamous video featuring a gummy rat being dissected. The channel's videos are notable for the Creepy High-Pitched Voice, nonsense terminology, and generally uncomfortable tones.
- Dog Shirt's Homemade Intros web series is another that is essentially a Subverted Kids' Show. His whole gimmick is that he takes a theme song mostly from a kids show and tries to "remake" them horribly, often leading to a lot of disturbing Nightmare Fuel. If you didn't know any better and stumbled upon this channel without context (or what little there is, anyway), you'd be mistaken for thinking that it's just another Elsagate channel. Though alas, it is not meant for kids.
- DEATH BATTLE!:
- Death Battle took this into consideration with the episode "Starscream vs. Rainbow Dash". If it was determined that Rainbow Dash would lose, they would not make the episode for a number of reasons: their fanbase would deem the episode pointless, Bronies would be outraged, the episode would likely get lumped with the then-emerging trend of YouTube Kids' Cartoons (sullying ScrewAttack's name along with it), and... little kids possibly getting traumatized would be bad enough.
- This is also the reason for the Ambiguous Ending of Raven vs. Twilight Sparkle. Fearing that little kids would possibly view it, the team chose to end the battle with the possibility of Twilight surviving rather than have her die in a brutal fashion.
- H 3 H 3 Productions: Toy Channels are Ruining Society
- Saberspark: The Dark Side of YouTube Kids' Cartoons / What the HELL is Johny Johny?
- Down the Rabbit Hole: Finger Family Videos
- Reign Bot: YouTube's Disturbing "Kids" Channels
- Folding Ideas: Weird Kids' Videos and Gaming the Algorithm
- SomeOrdinaryGamers: The YouTube Elsagate Conspiracy
- The Philip Defranco Show: Why We Need to Talk About the Insane YouTube Kids Problem
- Joe Rogan Fan Page: Joe Rogan Talks About Elsagate!
- Ted: The nightmare videos of childrens' YouTube and what's wrong with the internet today
- Reddit's /r/ElsaGate community documents this phenomenon.
- The YouTube channel Investigating YouTube discusses the videos and accuses them of having a nefarious purpose.
- Retsupurae has made three videos mocking these. They tend to assign the characters names like "Mackey Mouse" and "Golfy".
- The SMG4 video "Mario's Internet Safety" features CEO of YouTube Susan Wojoitz talking about how the platform prides itself on child safety and takes a look at some of the kids channels, only to find Spider-Man on his knees begging Elsa to twist his nipples, after which Susan bails.
- The Amazing World of Gumball's sixth-season episode "The Candidate" gave a Take That! to these videos with "32 Donkeys Playing on a Sled," featuring a crudely animated parody of "Five Little Monkeys", a song most commonly used in these videos. The song was so bad the television playing it used the remote to commit suicide.
- Animaniacs (2020): One Pinky and the Brain short parodies this with the Groggles, a mix of these sorts of channels and The Wiggles.
- Parodied in a gameplay video by Guitar Hero streamer Acai showing mods for the World Tour: Definitive Edition overhaul where skins of popular children's characters such as the Disney Princesses and Elsa and Anna are performing alongside fellow Elsagate staples Joker and Spider-Man.