Simple internet videos “unboxing” childrens’ toys and confectionery are attracting millions of viewers around the world – and earning some internet-savvy entrepreneurs a hefty income.
But their popularity has some experts worried about their potential impact on children.
It is a mysterious industry where the most successful players remain anonymous.
Data from TubularLabs shows these colourful clips have attracted close to 15 billion views in the past 18 months on video sharing site YouTube. Australia accounts for two per cent of the global market.
Sydney parent Brett Kennedy said his three-year-old son Finn loved watching them.
“They are very simple with someone just getting a toy and pulling it out of the box and saying, ‘This is how it works’,” Mr Kennedy said.
“And yet he will sit there glued trying to figure out how it’s put together. I think it’s just the surprise. You know – Christmas every day. It’s such an easy concept. I thought ‘Why didn’t I do that?'”
One of the most popular producers is a United States-based woman famous for her lilting voice and colourful manicures.
Last year her site reportedly earned close to $US5 million ($AU6.8 million) from advertising alone.
Unboxing market is tough to crack
Susie Ellis is a Californian animator who has been producing unboxing videos since March.
“I thought that was something I could do – except I could try to make mine a little bit more interesting and fun by adding special effects and animation,” she said.
Ms Ellis said it was hugely competitive because there were far more YouTube channels for children than there were regular television channels. She said she had forgone sleep to post videos in a timely manner, and there was no guaranteed income.
Are we creating this feeling of anticipation and joy without actually having anything to hold?
“If you are in it for the money, then you are going to be waiting at least a year to two years of doing it all the time before you would see anything or make a living,” she said.
Australia is a small but significant player, and an Adelaide-based couple has built a toy unboxing channel that is ranked sixth in the world.
FluffyJetProductions shows items like Play Doh being removed from packaging to reveal a “surprise toy” inside.
The channel’s videos were viewed nearly 56 million times in June 2015 and its most popular clip, added a year ago, has been viewed more than 131 million times.
Social media statistics company Social Blade has estimated the site earns the owners between $196,000 and $3.1 million a year.
Susie Ellis said such a vast income range was because “YouTube has a number of algorithms that they do not disclose to anyone”.
“I don’t know how they figure how your video gets seen higher in the search results to other people’s. It’s just the longer you do it – you hope something works.”
Unboxing videos have become an unlikely internet hit. Boxer Mike Tyson got in on the action as part of US comedy show Jimmy Kimmel Live.
“At the moment we are going to unbox Strawberry Shortcake,” he said, clutching a pink doll. This is very difficult to unbox because as you know, they have strong, strong adhesive tape around here.
“So, because I have no box cutter I must do it very violently but in a good mood.”
Psychologist Justin Coulson said he was concerned about the impact the clips might have on developing minds.
“They’re not a 30-second commercial that we might see on television that markets to children. These are 10- to 15-minute advertorials,” he said.
The director of the Platinum Preschool in the east Sydney suburb of Randwick, Nichola McLean, was more circumspect.
“I don’t think there’s any harm in a child watching it once or twice and seeing what’s out there and what other children are talking about, if it’s a fashionable thing,” she said.
“My concern is if they watch it over and over and over again – and then you get the consumerism side coming into it.
“Consumerism can be addictive. Are we creating this feeling of anticipation and joy without actually having anything to hold?
“And then when it comes to birthdays and Christmas – have they had that feeling so many times that the novelty’s worn off?”
Dr Coulson said he wanted tougher regulation.
“We also need to look at what legislators can do to stop this really blatant marketing that’s so often inappropriate towards our children,” he said.
There is no evidence “unboxing” is anything more than a fad.
But in an internet age – is it harmless fun? Or a damaging influence? The answer is probably outside the box.