They obliged. As you might imagine, no one watched any of the boy's videos at first. But then, his mother came up with an idea that brought her son more success: She filmed Ryan in a more-elaborate-than-usual video, playing with more than 100 toys from the Pixar series Cars. It went viral.
Now, the channel's numbers are astounding. Ryan, still only 6 years old, has 10 million YouTube subscribers. Some of his videos have attracted more than one billion views. And, according to Forbes, he's made his family rich.
Last year, his YouTube channel made just over $11 million in advertising fees. That makes him the eighth-most successful YouTube influencer on the planet. Here's how it all happened--and how this 6-year-old's story can inspire you to succeed at whatever you try.
The videos and the channel
The channel is called Ryan's ToysReview. It's produced by Ryan's family, and they don't disclose Ryan's last name, or his parents' names at all, or the city they live in--presumably out of well-founded security concerns.
All we really know about them is that his father is a structural engineer, and his mother reportedly quit her job as a high school chemistry teacher to run the channel full time. (Actually, most of what we know comes from two articles last year, one on the Verge and the other on TubeFilter.)
Nearly each day for the past two years or so, his parents have produced videos of him playing around, featuring toys, and demonstrating his comedic timing and storytelling.
As The Washington Post points out, 6-year-old Ryan's specialty is "the slow reveal." Many of the videos' titles "include the word surprise in all caps":
- "GIANT EGG SURPRISE"
- "HUGE EGGS SURPRISE TOYS CHALLENGE"
- "BALLOON POP SURPRISE"
- "SURPRISE TOYS Giant Ball Pit Challenge"
You can see a few examples of Ryan ToysReview videos at the end of this article. They might not be your style exactly--as Ryan's mom pointed out in the interview with TubeFilter, their biggest demographic is children aged 3 to 7, and I'm guessing that's not you. But they're part of a huge and successful market.
The monetization and strategy
Ryan's family has been savvy, and also had incredible timing. His parents say they mostly film the raw videos on the weekends, and that they do the editing and production required while he's in school.
The videos' success was enough to get Ryan's ToysReview into some special YouTube programs that provide higher ad rates, and the family has also apparently worked out some direct deals with sponsored or branded videos.
It's a big business--and the toy industry has apparently taken notice.
"If a product gets 10 million, 20 millions views, and you see that Ryan loves it, or other kids love it, it has a huge impact at retail," Jim Silver, CEO of the review site Toys, Tots, Pets, and More, told the Verge.
Meantime, Ryan himself has turned into a celebrity of sorts. "When we're out in public -- either at a toy store or Target or grocery shopping," his mother said two years ago, "people recognize him and he gets very excited. He thinks they're his friends and he wants to play with them."
(Reading the comments on that article is fascinating and instructive, by the way: "I wish Ryan would have like a toy signing or something! My 3yo daughter loves Ryan!" one commenter writes. "She invites him over to play all the time on her pretend phone, aka, her hand.")
Maybe you find this story interesting, but I also hope you find it inspiring. Because from what I can tell, there's nothing in Ryan's family's background that would have predicted, three or four years ago, that they'd have this kind of success. Here are a few things you can take away from them.
1. Don't listen when people say this platform or that platform is dead.
YouTube has been around since 2005; an entire decade before Ryan's family launched his channel and turned it into something. The idea that it was passé or less important than newer channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Snap abounded.
2. Just get started.
It doesn't appear that Ryan's family started with any idea of developing a big channel, and they launched it and stuck with it simply because it was something Ryan was interested in.
"We had no prior experience on YouTube -- I'd never uploaded a video in my life -- and we've learned everything as we're going," said his mother.
3. Try stuff.
If there's one video that created the success of this channel, it's the one where Ryan plays with 100 different toys--subtly entitled "100+ cars toys GIANT EGG SURPRISE OPENING Disney Pixar Lightning McQueen kids video Ryan ToysReview."
"I don't know why so many people love that video -- if I did, I'd make a lot more just like it," his mother said. It now has more than 800 million views--twice the population of the United States.
4. Keep things in perspective.
It would be hard for any family to give up an $11 million-a-year business, but Ryan's mom told TubeFilter that's exactly what they plan to do at some point.
"Right now, he loves making videos. Every time I tell him we're going to film, he gets so excited," she said. "As long as he's loving it and it doesn't disrupt his daily routine, we plan on continuing. But the moment he's not having fun any more, that's when it will be time to stop."