Considering what (and who) you watch on YouTube, what celebrity or media outlet do you believe has the largest following? The Ellen Show, Justin Bieber, or Swedish jokester PewDiePie?
While we all log on to check out a recipe, a home how-to, or to hear a song, what’s really driving viewership on YouTube is children. If you have one under the age of 13, you’ve probably glimpsed a Minecraft video or two.
Parents worry about what their kids watch, but it turns out that kids aren’t using YouTube solely to watch Nicki Minaj videos or gaming tutorials. Little kids especially love watching other kids. And that’s why six-year-old Ryan is currently one of the biggest stars on YouTube.
Ryan was inspired to get started on YouTube by watching his favorite kind of videos: toy unboxings and demos. This genre of content has really taken off in the last few years, with one of the top-earning channels being a toy unboxing channel run by an adult.
When Ryan was just three years old, he asked his mother why he wasn’t on YouTube playing with toys. His parents, clearly not thinking much of it, appeased him by uploading a video of Ryan playing with a train set.
For months afterward, nothing much happened. But then Ryan’s channel, Ryan ToysReview, uploaded a video called “100+ cars toys GIANT EGG SURPRISE OPENING Disney Pixar Lightning McQueen”.
This video, published in July of 2015, currently has more than 800 million views. And it’s the video that triggered the incredible growth of Ryan’s channel, as his viewership steadily climbed to the 10 million-plus subscribers he has today.
That means that Ryan made approximately 11 million dollars last year in ad revenue. According the Forbes magazine, he is now the eighth-highest paid star on YouTube. Across 2016 and 2017, his channel spent 40 weeks in a row as the channel with the most views in the United States.
The concept and appeal is simple. Ryan is an enthusiastic, upbeat kid who simply plays with toys. Throughout his playtime, he engages with his audience of other children by showing them different features and asking them questions.
But that doesn’t mean that audiences who feel close to Ryan have open access to him. Comments on the channel are disabled, and his parents don’t reveal personal details; his mother has never even shared her name.
Despite the very understandable precautions Ryan’s family takes, they all participate. His parents film, edit, and appear on camera with him, as well as his two younger siblings. They’ve even expanded the channel to include vlogs of Ryan’s daily activities.
The popularity of Ryan’s toy channel finds him not just as a content creator, but a tastemaker. Millions of kids see the toys Ryan plays with, and of course, want them for themselves. Therefore, Ryan gets sent a staggering amount of playthings from toy companies. His family ends up donating the bulk of it to those in need.
So with all of those free toys, what could Ryan possibly want for Christmas? It turns out what he really wanted was a cat. He got two.