Ryan Kaji, the boy king of YouTube


Shion held on a little longer, but he too eventually quit his job to run his son’s business. “I started to feel like I was the dead weight of the family,” Shion told me. Ryan needed the full support of both parents. “That’s when I realized, OK, we have to take a step back, and we have to see how we can support Ryan in his branding.”

Shion and Loann noticed that many children’s YouTube channels focused more on the brand of the toy than the brand of talent. In simpler terms, they were just adding “Thomas the Train” to their titles and hoping that other kids who wanted to consume every video on Thomas the Tank Engine would stumble upon their content. Shion thought it was back. Ryan, not the toys, should be the mark. Shion came up with an interesting evolution: given Ryan’s popularity, why couldn’t he create his own brands, his own characters, his own toys? Why help Thomas when you can create your own character universe, diversify your content feeds, increase merchandising and license your content on some of the biggest platforms in the world? “People are looking at Ryan, not the toy he’s showing,” says Shion. “So a lot of times we create a new original animated character that’s inspired by Ryan.”

Today, Ryan’s World includes the separate channels “Combo Panda”, “Ryan’s World Español” and “Gus the Gummy Gator”. Ryan doesn’t make many appearances in all of these videos; sometimes he just gives a brief introduction. In a recent video, the action begins with Ryan in his backyard holding a rubber ball. He half-heartedly throws it in the air, watches it bounce, then says that Peck and Combo – two of Ryan’s World’s cartoon characters – are going to be teaching viewers about gravity. He is in front of the camera for 35 seconds.

Loann and Shion say cameos like this are their way of limiting the amount of time Ryan has to be on camera, which is their main concern these days. Still, there is no doubt that he spent most of his childhood being filmed. Many of these appearances are trivial; some are of questionable taste, such as “Ryan’s First Business Class Airplane Trip to Japan.” Others are just videos of a cute kid playing with toys. Right now, as I type this, the last entry in the Ryan’s World stream is a one-hour video in which Ryan is present for the vast majority of screen time. He gives some science facts about the strength of spiders, plays with toys, and is his usual charm, while wearing a Ryan’s World t-shirt.

In 2017, the Kajis partnered with Pocket.watch, a licensing company run by a former Walt Disney Company executive. Pocket.watch operates the Ryan’s World franchise, including deals with Walmart, Amazon, and Skechers. But even as the family business grew, Shion says, most viewers back then still wanted to see Ryan play with familiar toys. So Ryan continued to do – and generate a lot of income – what he had always done: picking up a popular toy and playing with it on camera. In 2019, Truth in Advertising, a consumer watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing the Kajis of “cheating millions of young children” by not properly disclosing their advertisers. (A spokeswoman for the family said they “strictly follow the terms of use of all platforms and all applicable laws and regulations, including advertising disclosure requirements.”) The brand, which continued to enjoy sponsored content on its YouTube channels, also made money with its Ryan’s World line of toys, several deals with streaming networks and licensing deals.

Today, Sunlight Entertainment, the production company created by Shion and Loann, has 30 employees. And the Kajis traded Houston for Hawaii. When I asked Loann why they had moved, she replied, “Well, I’ve always wanted to live in Hawaii, and now that we can afford it, we were like, why don’t we? ? “

Last summer i traveled with my daughter in Simi Valley, Calif., for a recording of the Nickelodeon show “Ryan’s Mystery Playdate,” a professional half-hour recap of several of the motifs from Ryan’s YouTube videos. The day before the shoot, I asked my daughter to watch an older episode of the show on our iPad. She didn’t seem particularly interested at first, but when I moved to turn it off she slapped my hand and said she liked Ryan. Which didn’t surprise me – why wouldn’t she like it? But I admit that I felt slightly disappointed. Over the next few days, I gave him a taste of a little more of the Ryan Kaji media empire: a science lesson in which Ryan and his little twin sisters mix baking soda and vinegar; a tag game played between Loann and Ryan; and the video of the giant egg that started it all. She, of course, preferred the egg.


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