ARUN RATH, HOST:
We've all had the experience of falling into that "Alice In Wonderland" rabbit hole that is YouTube. You start out watching an ice bucket challenge or two, and the next thing you know, you've watched 20 videos on the best way to skin a catfish.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)
MELISSA LIMA: (As DisneyCollector) This is from the movie "Cars." (Box opening) It comes with tattoos.
RATH: This is an unboxing video. What you see is a brand new piece of merchandise being opened, unwrapped, taken out of the box. They're generally shot point-of-view style. All you see of the person speaking are the hands, as if they're your own. There are unboxing videos for every product under the sun. This video is from an especially popular subgenre that's directed at toddlers. To date, it's had 94 million views. Marieille Silcoff wrote about this phenomenon for New York Times Magazine. Marieille, welcome to the show.
MIREILLE SILCOFF: Hi.
RATH: So I've come across unboxing videos before, but it's usually for luxury goods or gadgets. I never knew about the toddler unboxing videos. How big are they?
SILCOFF: Pretty big. I mean, the way I found out about unboxing videos was through my 2-year-old who got hooked on watching the unboxing of a Cookie Monster Play-Doh set, which she found while we were searching for a regular old Sesame Street video. And anecdotally, the way I knew it was a story was I called a friend of mine who was in New York City and said the weirdest thing just happened with my kid. She's really into watching this Cookie Monster video, it's just somebody taking a toy out of a box. And she said well, my kid's totally obsessed with watching somebody unhatching surprised eggs. So I knew something was going on because that was the first conversation I'd had about it. And immediately I got a hit.
RATH: Tell us about this interaction with your daughter because she told you why this is great.
SILCOFF: Yeah. Well, I was completely baffled. And when I asked her why, she said she liked seeing the hands. She liked seeing the hands taking the toy out of the box. And it was as simple as that. And it just sounds like the sort of thing a 2-and-a-half-year-old would say. But when I investigated further, that seemed to be the same reason everybody likes unboxing videos across the board, not just kids under the age of 5.
RATH: And you made contact with one of the most popular purveyors, the woman who got those 94 million hits. She's called DisneyCollector on YouTube. What did you find out about her?
SILCOFF: Well, DisneyCollector, at the time of writing the New York Times Magazine piece, she was basically the most-watched character on YouTube. I got in touch with her just to find out who she was. And she got back in touch with me really quickly. She told me her name was Melissa Lima. She said she was 21 years old. She had worked as a waitress and a babysitter. I then prodded a tiny bit further, like, where were you babysitting? Like, very standard question and she absolutely stopped replying to my emails.
SILCOFF: Which seems to have been the case with other journalists who have tried getting in touch with her since. So I don't know, it could all be false information that she gave me. At the moment, DisneyCollector is a total mystery.
RATH: Do you think maybe she might be working for toy companies or even that this might not be a real person, just a, you know, a creation by marketing?
SILCOFF: No, absolutely not. In a way, it's anti-marketing. It's people saying I'm not going to sit back and listen to advertising or listen to what marketers tell me, I'm going to tell consumers what I think of this product - what this product really looks like. At this point, I don't think toy companies could afford her because she probably made something between $2 and $13 million doing this work last year.
RATH: From the ads on YouTube?
SILCOFF: From the ads on YouTube.
RATH: Wow. Isn't it still in a way just like letting your kids watch ads?
SILCOFF: Possibly. Although, you have to remember that the toys that are most popular in the unboxing world are generally toys that are like $2 toys. It's nothing that kids are pining for for Christmas. So you have to ask yourself well, why would they watch this? Why are they interested in this? And I think a lot of media aimed at toddlers is too fast, there's too much going on. And this is a kind of slow TV for the under 5 set. It's exactly their speed. It's just one thing happening - somebody's taking something out of a box. And then I think the other thing is really just that very basic Christmas morning, jolly little feeling of seeing something new come out of its package.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)
LIMA: (As DisneyCollector) Let's see what we have in this box. Half of a Cookie Monster, four parts of Doh.
RATH: Marieille Silcoff wrote about the phenomenon of toddler unboxing videos on YouTube for New York Times Magazine. Thank you.
SILCOFF: Thank you, it was a pleasure.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.