Like a lot of other seven-year-olds, Ryan of Ryan ToysReview likes dinosaurs, trains and building complicated structures with LEGO. He’s into cars and just started piano lessons.
But what sets the small American boy apart from other kids is he does most of his playing in front of a camera.
Since his mother first posted a video of him playing with a toy at age three, Ryan has turned the normal parts of just being a kid into an empire that this week saw Forbes name him the world’s No.1 YouTube star.
His pay packet in the 12 months to June 2018? According to Forbes, $29,863,130 million.
Short videos of Ryan playing and screaming with delight while unboxing toys have been viewed on his two YouTube channels nearly 26 billion times by his 17 million young followers.
As for why he’s so popular, “I’m entertaining and I’m funny”, the aspiring game developer told NBC News in November.
According to Forbes, nearly all of the mini mogul’s fortune comes from advertising on his channels Ryan ToysReview and Ryan’s Family Review.
After he signed up with children’s entertainment channel Pocket.watch last year, “the deals began rolling in,” the business site said.
“When views go up, so do these automated ad dollars.”
Ryan is just one YouTube millionaire on Forbes’ Top 10 list making money by interesting other people enough to watch them do everyday things.
Among the others making the cut: A makeup artist, a five-man team that does wacky sport challenges, gamers and an Irishman who merely commentates on video games.
What are we watching for?
What’s almost as puzzling as the amount of cash that Ryan has made already is why we prefer tuning in to watch one another play rather than doing stuff ourselves.
And it comes down to science, said Melbourne clinical psychologist and cyber safety expert Jordan Foster.
“Firstly, we see when people look at videos about something they’re really interested in, neurons are activated called mirror neurons,” Ms Foster told The New Daily.
“They reflect what someone else is experiencing and so you get a similar psychological experience watching as you would doing.”
Within children’s brains the effect is “magnified about five to 10 times of an adult, which is why they’re so drawn to YouTube,” Ms Foster said.
The experience is “dulled down” for adults, but “there’s still a level of enjoyment, curiosity and interest that gets me watching someone else’s video”.
Firing neurons aside, there’s also a “sense of community” in seeing others do something we’d like to do ourselves, Ms Foster – “absolutely” a fan of YouTube tutorials – told The New Daily.
Clinical psychologist Amanda Gordon from Sydney’s Armchair Psychology “can only speculate” about the “outstandingly amazing” phenomenon of people watching others.
“There are a couple of suggestions. One is we’re lazy. Another would be a kinder one, that people are actually curious about other people’s lives and watch to understand them, like with reality television,” Professor Gordon said.
As for Ryan, he could make even more money next year. In October, it was announced content from his channel will be repackaged and distributed on Hulu and Amazon.
In August, he launched toy and clothing collection Ryan’s World, which is sold at Walmart and features a range of slimes, action figures and more.
“It’s so cool,” creative director Ryan told NBC News.
According to Forbes, 15 per cent of the boy’s earnings go straight to an account protected until he becomes a legal adult, and the rest likely goes to paying managerial and production fees.
Warns Professor Gordon: “He might find that when he’s nine or 10 his popularity may wane as his audience grows up a bit.”
Forbes’ Top 10 YouTube Stars
1: Ryan ToysReview – nearly $30 million.
2: Jake Paul – $29,173,242. The younger brother of disgraced Logan (No.10) has more than 3.5 billion views of his rap songs and pranks.
3: Dude Perfect – $27,137,900. A five-man sports crew specialising in trick shots like hurling ping pong balls to trigger domino-falls of Oreos.
4: Dan TDM – $25,106,997. British gamer Daniel Middleton has been playing Minecraft on camera for six years.
5: Jeffree Star – $24,428,930. The makeup artist does tutorials and sells an estimated $100 million of his eponymous cosmetics each year.
6: Markiplier – $23,749,862. Gamer Mark Fischbach plays his PS4 nearly all day every day and has an athleisure line for gamers.
7: VanossGaming – $23,071,295. Canadian gamer Evan Fong plays mainstream titles like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.
8: Jacksepticeye – $21,711,200. Seán McLoughlin’s foul-mouthed video commentary has led to him developing content for live-streaming platform Twitch.
9: PewDiePie – $21,032,725. Swedish gamer Felix Kjellberg is paid up to $450,000 by advertisers for a sponsored video.
10: Logan Paul – $19,675,775. A merchandise business kept him going after he was kicked off YouTube’s Google Preferred program in January after filming an apparent suicide hanging from a tree.