Kid­preneurs coin it in on­line toy re­views

Sunday Times - - NEWS - SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER

UN­LIKE most 25-year-olds, Sashalee Find­lay loves play­ing with toys — from the lat­est Dis­ney princesses to Tsum Tsums and the Power Rangers.

But, apart from the fun of it, Find­lay is paid to play with toys.

It’s part of a bur­geon­ing craze among mil­lions of kids who are hooked on the phe­nom­e­non of “toy un­box­ing” — where chil­dren and some adults are rul­ing the YouTube scene with their re­views of the lat­est play­things.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, a fifth of the site’s top 100 chan­nels are fo­cused on toys — on­line kid celebri­ties are be­com­ing a dime a dozen.

Take six-year-old Amer­i­can sen­sa­tion Ryan.

This young en­tre­pre­neur is the star of Ryan’s Toys Re­view, which, within a year of launch­ing in 2015, be­came the sec­ond­largest chan­nel on YouTube — be­hind Justin Bieber — with 645 mil­lion views.

Then there’s Evan, the eightyear-old from the UK who has made more than £800 000 (R13.2-bil­lion) out of the EvanTubeHD chan­nel.

Al­though chil­dren are en­am­oured by their peers talk­ing about toys, crit­ics have dubbed toy un­box­ing “tod­dler crack” and are con­cerned that the younger set are be­ing ex­ploited by big toy brands.

There’s also the fear that chil­dren have easy ac­cess to YouTube be­cause of the un­box­ing videos and could stum­ble on adult con­tent.

Re­searchers from the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia found re­cently PRO FUN: ’The Very Se­ri­ous Toy Show’ fea­tures on YouTube that “the rapid growth and pop­u­lar­ity of toy un­box­ing . . . across so­cial me­dia plat­forms is def­i­nitely gen­er­at­ing some moral panic, but new tech­nolo­gies for chil­dren’s me­dia tend to do that”.

They said: “Some peo­ple call it ‘tod­dler crack’ and reg­u­la­tion is ob­vi­ously needed; but there is also em­pow­er­ment for chil­dren in­volved and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties that bring fam­i­lies to­gether in a com­mon en­ter­prise.” Find­lay, also a Prima Toys cre­ative de­signer and pre­sen­ter of The Very Se­ri­ous Toy Show on YouTube, said she loved the con­cept — de­spite her age — and so did her 4 000 fol­low­ers. “The show is shot at my home. We find that kids can’t re­ally re­late to a stu­dio set­ting, so we made the show quite homely, so that they can see that the toys are some­thing they can play with in their homes,” said Find­lay.

South African toy and par­ent­ing ex­pert Nikki Bush said chil­dren keen to find out their peers’ rec­om­men­da­tions formed part of toy un­box­ing’s ap­peal.

“Peer rec­om­men­da­tion is in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful; that’s how so­cial me­dia works.

“What we have to bear in mind is that some kids are earn­ing a lot of money. There is a com­mer­cial spin to it. There comes a point where it’s not un­bi­ased opin­ion. Chil­dren be­come in­ter­net ac­tivists; be­cause you have a fol­low­ing, toy brands will give you toys to re­view.

“Kids gen­er­ally hook onto the hype around the toy, ver­sus what’s be­hind the prod­uct in terms of ed­u­ca­tional ben­e­fit. They will talk about the fun as­pect of it; they won’t nec­es­sar­ily talk about what’s good for the body and mind.

“There is one other down­side to HEY, DOLL: Sashalee Find­lay, 25, Prima Toys cre­ative de­signer and pre­sen­ter of 'The Very Se­ri­ous Toy Show' con­sider — cham­pion un­box­ers lose their right to pri­vacy very early on in their lives.”

Sankavi Naidoo, 12, is also hooked on un­box­ing videos, par­tic­u­larly those about the lat­est world­wide craze: fid­get spin­ners. “It al­lows me to keep up with all the lat­est toys out there,” she said.

Veruska De Vita, a Jo­han­nes­burg mother of two, said toy un­box­ing clips were her chil­dren’s favourite YouTube genre: “These un­box­ing kids are like celebri­ties. The for­mat of un­box­ing videos is quite long and, to be hon­est with you, bor­ing, but kids love them . . . I think tak­ing that wrap­ping off and find­ing sur­prises in­side is half of the fun for them.”

But De Vita con­ceded the un­box­ing videos came with a price: pres­sure to buy the toys the chil­dren see. “My girls were talk­ing about Hatchi­mals and fid­get spin­ners be­fore they had even landed here.

“There are so many con­cerns among par­ents about kids watch­ing YouTube be­cause of the risk of them stum­bling on some­thing adult. I su­per­vise very closely.”

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