Photographer: Junko Kimura/Bloomberg

YouTube Unboxing Goes From Family Fun to Big Business

Three of the five most-watched YouTube channels aim squarely at the child market.

This holiday season, your kids may get some unexpected wish-list inspiration from YouTube clips of other children unwrapping Lego boxes, opening Play Doh or tinkering with Barbie playsets.

Known as unboxing videos, they’re racking up hundreds of millions of views from youngsters (and adults) strangely transfixed by the surprise inside of say, a Kinder egg. They’re also garnering increasing ad income for their creators, who give unsolicited recommendations of products from top toymakers like Mattel Inc. and Hasbro Inc.

Last week, three of the 10 most-viewed channels on YouTube were devoted to unboxing. Ryan ToysReview, Baby Big Mouth and FamilyFunPack together ran up almost 250 million showings. They’re behind music channels for Justin Bieber and Adele, but ahead of The Ellen Show, BuzzFeed and Taylor Swift’s site. With a channel conservatively earning $1-$2 per thousand views, according to researcher Tubefilter, 100 million views could mean more than $200,000 a month.

Video Source: Baby Big Mouth/YouTube

“It’s crazy once you start looking at the numbers you see these children’s unboxing channels are even more popular than the international YouTube stars,’’ said Josh Cohen, the co-founder of Tubefilter, which tracks the online videos industry. “If you’re getting hundreds of millions of view a month, you’re making a decent income.’’

YouTube has seen an explosion of kids content in recent years, and tablets and smartphones have become the favorite screens, according to Miner and Co. Studio. In February, YouTube unveiled its Kids app, which has been downloaded more than 10 million times and now expanded into the U.K. and Ireland, despite being criticized for branded content and junk food ads.

In addition to ad money, unboxers are often sent toys to review and offered sponsorship opportunities in exchange for the free publicity they provide to millions of kids. Many unboxers are also signing up to online video networks, which basically manage their careers like a digital Hollywood agent, helping with programming, content, advertising and audience development. 

A Family Business

Video Source: Mommy and Gracie Show/YouTube

Melissa Hunter, a New Jersey mom who retired from her real-estate job because of multiple sclerosis, has become a hit online with the “Mommy and Gracie Show,’’ which she runs with her red-haired daughter. In 2.5 years, they’ve recorded more than 315 million views and Hunter branched out to form Family Video Network, a group of 35 channels, focusing on topics from unboxing to her husband’s “Sweet Willy’s Kitchen’’ cooking show.

 “I never thought anyone would watch us, but the joy is that it’s still something my daughter and I are doing together,’’ said Hunter, 48. Family Video Network is not yet profitable, she said, but the allure for children will keep them engaged. “Kids are fascinated by what’s inside the box, the egg, the bag, it doesn’t matter – it’s about what is inside.’’

YouTubers can make money by joining the company’s partner program, which allows Google to place ads for a 45 percent cut of that revenue, according to Hunter. The creator keeps the rest, plus all revenue for ad inventory sold that exceeds YouTube’s rate card. For channels that are performing well, signing a deal with a video network can help monetize further ad deals as well as brand relationships.

Divimove, a Berlin-based network partially owned by RTL Group’s FremantleMedia, manages 1,600 channels in Europe, from elrubius, the biggest Spanish speaking YouTuber worldwide with almost 3 billion views, to Dutch beauty blogger NikkieTutorials, who has been featured on “Good Morning America.’’

“We are developing the rock stars of the new generation; and increasingly they aren’t the singers or Hollywood celebrities ’’ said Divimove spokesman Stephan Schilling.

Some unboxers are striking it rich. According to online analytics firm OpenSlate, the biggest earner on YouTube in 2014 was an unboxing channel called DisneyCollector BR, which had 380 million monthly views and took in $4.8 million last year. That beat Taylor Swift’s “Blank Spaces’’ video, which earned $4.1 million.

Video Source: ToyCollectorFun/YouTube

What About the Children?

With more children hosting YouTube shows, it’s important to note possible effects of putting a child on camera too soon, or without consent.

Being exposed to millions of viewers also opens the child up to everything from negative and hurtful viewer comments to potential predators, said John Oates, a professor in in the child and youth studies group at Open University and founder of the media advisory group at the British Psychological Society.

“Many parents won’t understand all the harms and risks that can come from children being filmed on YouTube and social media,’’ he said.

“There is a need for more discussion and education of parents, and encouraging parents to think more deeply about this.’’

Second-time mother Carrie Williams started ToyCollectorFun in search of an interesting job with flexible hours. The channel is now part of Disney’s Maker Studios, which has more than 55,000 creators worldwide.

ToyCollectorFun has generated more 4.3 million views and Williams, 40, who buys most of the toys herself, earns a profit from her channel (though her husband continues to work in advertising).

Still, Williams says maintaining relationships with brands, YouTube, the multi-channel network, buying toys, and most importantly engaging with viewers is a lot of work.

“If anyone is just in it for a quick buck, it’s going to be reflected in their videos,’’ she said. “People who are successful with unboxing are the people who are passionate about what they are doing.’’

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