Fame in the final frontier: How YouTube is producing some of our biggest toy IP hits

While there’s little to suggest that Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was anything other than a satirical take on the mid- nineteenth century’s societal drug abuse, and certainly not a foreshadowing of the coming age of the social media platform, it’s with fresh doubt that I, myself, only just emerge – brain intact – from an eight day bender of YouTube algorithms.

In the name of research I have chased the elusive White Rabbit down its contemporary hole of online content and discovered the veritable Mad Hatter’s Tea Party of short form content that today holds the attention, vice-like, of children growing up in the digital era.

Were Carroll to have written the adventures of Alice in modern times, I can only expect that Cheshire Cats, pipe smoking caterpillars and maniacal Queens would easily give way to your Ryan’s Worlds, FGTeeV and Little Baby Bum’s of the YouTube landscape today.

The numbers in which digital audiences are being drawn into these holes are enormous, and of course, to where children gravitate there’s usually an absurd amount of money to be made. The potential for success to be found among the algorithmic laws of YouTube’s children’s content is a matter that the toy industry is growing increasingly aware of.

At this year’s Brand Licensing Europe, The NPD Group was handed the stage to suggest that the toy industry begin to look beyond the stars of linear TV and at where the viewer numbers are really totting up: at the YouTube creators of today as more modern inspiration for IP revenue.

At the time of my resurface back into the real world, Ryan’s World – to use just one example of today’s wave of YouTube stardom – had posted its newest video, in which the eight year old was building an imaginary fort with his father. Within an hour, the video had hit 7,744 views. Just three days before, the channel had posted a video in which Ryan conducts a series of DIY science experiments at home. At the time of writing, it was climbing towards 4 million views.

These numbers are but a fraction of the kind of figures an average Ryan’s World video will clock up over the course of a few months, and a single drop in an ocean of the cumulative viewing figures for the Ryan’s World YouTube channel itself.

On top of this, the content output from Ryan’s World is staggering; one could find oneself navigating its constructed world of make belief for days on end before having to rewatch a single dose of Ryan. As a content machine, it’s well oiled. As an IP for the toy industry, it’s a cornucopia of potential that’s managed to divide opinion on ethics from the commercialisation of Ryan’s own childhood, to the pushing of that commercialisation upon our most susceptible; children.

Throwing personal opinion to one corner – no matter which side of the argument you do land – just for the moment, the biggest take home message from Ryan’s YouTube stardom is that commercialisation is not only viable, but being actively achieved. Love it or loathe it, Ryan’s World is among a slew of online IP that have changed the game irrevocably.

It was the US outfit Bonkers Toys that got its hands on the Ryan’s World master toy deal first, having established itself as an entity with the primary objective of developing toy products based on the way kids are consuming entertainment today.

Four years ago, Bonkers Toys may have been accused of predetermination by use of its moniker; today, it’s the prime example of how far a little foresight can get you.

“YouTube creators, social media influencers and gaming apps are at the core of today’s entertainment for kids and teens,” Deborah Stallings Stumm, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Bonkers Toys tells ToyNews.

“YouTube stars are the new celebrities and role models that are driving sales and demand for merchandise. The Ryan’s World and FGTeeV fans of today have a magical connection with these creators and Bonkers Toys saw a massive and untapped potential for successful toy lines.”

The gamble – and by anyone’s standards, putting faith into the online success of one seven year old child and his parents could be considered so – certainly paid off. Today, Ryan’s World toys are among some of the most sought after, not only in the US from where the brand originates, but here in the UK, too. This year’s DreamToys Top 12 toys for Christmas pick even featured items from the range, while – distributed across the UK by Vivid – the expanse of collectable figures, play-sets and vehicles, is more than making itself known.

Ryan of Ryan’s World has by definition become the face of a seismic shift across the toy scene; securing audiences in their tens of millions at a time, is quite literally child’s play, and now – all of a sudden – the YouTube creator has a very real presence within the toy market.

“The YouTube creator and influencer effect is certainly a reality in today’s toy market,” continues Stallings Stumm. “Finding ways to integrate these new channels with popular and innovative play patterns will be hugely important for successful toy lines going forward.

“That said, not all influencers and gaming apps, regardless of their subscribers, downloads and views, will work well for toy lines. Bonkers Toys is very selective about the brands and channels with which we partner.”

This much is very true. In fact, it’s a small portfolio indeed that Bonkers Toys boasts, spanning Ryan’s World, the more video game content-orientated FGTeeV, and Slither.io. For anyone unfamiliar with FGTeeV, its premise is rather convoluted. It originated as a game streaming channel that quickly monopolised on its younger skewing, child-focused content. It’s a supremely slick and well-produced example of its genre that has developed within it its own cast of character ‘presenters’. Think Mr Tumble and his extended Tumble family for YouTube streamers.

As a 30 something year old operating on the outskirts of this particular field, much of the channel’s content is lost on me, however, there’s an average of 4 million viewers per video to whom it is regarded as the pinnacle of light entertainment today. And who can argue with that?

Already, the line up of collectables and figures based on the FGTeeV IP has been a success at US retail for Bonkers Toys. Now with UK distribution secured through Jazwares, the firm’s expecting a similar result here.

“YouTube and social media are very important sources of IP for the industry, but retail sales have proven that just having a big-name talent behind a line does not guarantee success,”continues Stallings Stumm. “Bonkers has a specific process we utilise to ensure each brand is developed and designed to maximise the potential.

“Unlike a movie or TV series, one of the benefits of YouTube is that content can be continuously viewed and is constantly refreshed. This creates potential for a much longer product life cycle. On top of this, the creativity of the YouTube creator is at the core of the success of each toy line. Bonkers is dedicated to developing toys that are truly authentic and on-brand for each creator.”

With success on this scale now within better reach of practically anyone, it’s little wonder that YouTube stardom has become such a sought after prize. And in a world in which content consumption is as fragmented as it is, YouTube begins to make a lot of sense and by extension has become a fertile ground for creativity.

But it certainly isn’t alone in the market, and following its recent fine at the hands
of the Federal Trade Commission for its breach of COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act) – who has since stepped in with a welcome review of YouTube’s data collection practices – this particular playing field has sprouted a number of competing platforms.

“In the same way the non-kids creator market has multiple platforms to engage their audience (Snap, TikTok, Instagram, etc) the kids’ and family space is following the same trend,” explains Dylan Collins, CEO of the leading kids’ digital engagement platform, SuperAwesome.

“The explosion of creator popularity for Rukkaz (the video platform for kids/ family creators) is a great example of this. Hundreds of creators (with a combined following of almost 180 million YouTube subscribers) have now signed up.”

Collins has been on a recent mission to put to bed the concerns surrounding YouTube’s run-in with the FTC, the legislative revision of its data collection practices, and the impact that this could have on the creator sphere itself.

In addition to a $170 million fine, YouTube has since been instructed to develop, implement and maintain a system that allows channel owners to identify themselves as making child-directed content. This will immediately block all data collecting practices used by the platform, which in turn will result in lower ad revenue on those particular videos. No audience data to show the corporates, no return investment through advertising.

Resultantly, YouTube creators have been quick to voice their upset, while what this means for the viability of sustained content output from them has been thrown into question. After all, what longevity does an online content creator have if it can’t monetise and fund its output on a kind of scale it has been so far?

The answer, as Collins readily states, is plenty: “Believe it or not, the YouTube COPPA fine was a good thing. It will unlock more money for kids content creators over time because it has made the rules very clear about how kids’ advertising could and could not be done.

“And with this in mind, content creators and influencers absolutely aren’t going away, they’re more important than ever. I think you’re going to see a range of new platforms for kids and families emerging over the next couple of years,” he adds.

Continue reading the feature in the November/December issue of ToyNews online and in print now, or by clicking here.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent some six years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@bizmedia.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobHutchins3 if ranting is your thing...

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