Totlol finds a way to monetize on YouTube

Earlier this summer, Vancouver Web Entrepreneur Ron Ilan announced that he was shutting down Totlol, a kid-friendly video site he built on the back of YouTube.

While building Totlol I was constantly looking for ways to make it sustainable. I failed. A “normal” website would just “fill up” with ads, but Totlol is not a “normal” site. There are two things that set harsh limits on what can be done – the target audience and the usage of the YouTube platform. With Totlol you just can’t do what other websites do.

Luckily that wasn’t the end of the line for Totlol.

Ilan recently got in touch with Techvibes to let us know that his plans had changed and pointed us to a recent intereview on Google Blogoscoped that details his experience building a video site for kids and how he clashed with YouTube.

You told me before how you ran into some troubles with YouTube’s policies. Could you tell us about that?

Yep. I ran into troubles, and it felt like running into a brick wall.

The YouTube API Terms of Service govern what can or can’t be done. They “evolve over time as technology advances and YouTube continues to grow” and they currently contain the following restriction:

“You agree not to use the YouTube API for any of the following commercial uses unless You obtain YouTube’s prior written approval:… the sale of advertising, sponsorships, or promotions on any page of the API Client containing YouTube audiovisual content, unless other content not obtained from YouTube appears on the same page and is of sufficient value to be the basis for such sales.”

A video website is mainly used for (surprise) watching videos. It is navigated mainly by (surprise) jumping from one video to the other. The occurrences of a pageviews in which there is no audiovisual content are random and far-between. Getting sponsorship under these terms would be ridiculous. Advertising revenue would be practically non-existent.

This restriction has not always been there, but with it, and with a message that it will be enforced, my business plan collapsed. I found myself running a website that is loved and growing but has no way of generating revenue and a development path that has no future. I seriously considered closing Totlol down.

So what has changed since all the drama? YouTube has published an addendum to their Terms of Service (ToS) called Using the YouTube APIs to Build Monetizable Applications which explains how you can charge customers for using an application in compliance with the ToS.

So instead of closing down, Ilan converted Totlol to a members-only site – $3/month or $18/year or $54 until your kid outgrows the site.

Now that he’s back in business, Ilan has introduced the first major upgrade to Totlol since becoming a paid service. Totlol now has Age-Optimized interfaces that enable kids of different ages to interact with the site and the video content in different ways. The interfaces designed for younger ages are simpler to operate than those for older ages. Each provides access to videos that are also optimized for the selected age group and parents have the ability to set and “lock” for their kids the interface of their choice.