Nickelodeon Strikes Ryan ToysReview Int'l Merchandise Deal Amid Bet on Social Media Influencers

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Ryan ToysReview

The Viacom brand previously signed deals with teen singer, dancer and influencer JoJo Siwa and Mexican YouTube star Isabella de la Torre, also known as “La Bala.”

Viacom's Nickelodeon is expanding its bets on young social media influencers, signing a consumer products deal with digital-first kids content studio pocket.watch for 7-year-old YouTube sensation Ryan of Ryan ToysReview fame that covers key international territories. 

After recently renewing the star’s Ryan’s Mystery Playdate series for a second season, Nickelodeon will manage consumer products licensing for his Ryan’s World toy brand and merchandise based on the show in select foreign markets, including Canada and key European, South American and Middle Eastern countries. The Los Angeles-based mini-mogul’s Ryan ToysReview channel on YouTube has reached more than 19.5 million subscribers with a mix of unboxings, toy reviews and kid antics, and he averages more than 1 billion views monthly.

The expanded agreement with pocket.watch, which handles Kaji’s U.S. licensing business, comes as the latest step in Nickelodeon’s growing focus on consumer licensing and broader deals with social media influencers.

It previously struck an overall talent deal with teen singer, dancer and social media influencer JoJo Siwa, and earlier this year, it unveiled an exclusive global representation deal with Mexican YouTube star Isabella de la Torre, also known as “La Bala.” Also on Wednesday, Nickelodeon unveiled a pact with the creators behind the YouTube viral hit song Baby Shark to develop a show based on it.

“Ryan is a bona fide star for the YouTube generation, and we are thrilled to expand our partnership with him and with pocket.watch,” Pam Kaufman, president of Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products, said Wednesday in a statement. “We are incredibly excited to further develop and grow Ryan into a truly global retail brand through our expertise in creative, product development and retail marketing.”

"The key to Nickelodeon’s and Viacom’s success is understanding the consumer. A couple of years ago, we started seeing that social influencers became extremely important to the kid audience,” Kaufman tells The Hollywood Reporter in explaining the recent deals push with social media influencers. “This group of celebrities started becoming even more important to kids than athletes ... even friends. So we started working with some social media influencers through the consumer products lens, not just through a marketing lens. We’re looking to do more with these people who appeal to the kids and family audience from a content and consumer products perspective.”

Do they replace traditional Hollywood actors? “We still really need actors,” says the exec. “I don’t think they are replacing actors. These are different kinds of people for our audiences.”

Importantly, consumer products can be a growing revenue stream for the talent and Nickelodeon and keep both relevant beyond the on-screen experience at a time when “retail is asking for them,” Kaufman says.

Chris Williams, founder and CEO of pocket.watch (in which Viacom invested as lead backer in a $15 million funding round in 2018), tells THR the reason why the company has expanded into the consumer products space: "The main thesis was these stars and characters on YouTube, where the vast majority of the kids and family audience is now consuming content, why can't they be treated like Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob and extended into all the franchise areas that we traditionally associate with television and film properties, including consumer products? And we were right."

He points to data proving the business opportunity. "We launched consumer products with Ryan domestically in August of last year, and NPD reported that just those five months in the U.S. were enough to make Ryan's World the third-largest new consumer products brand in the brand for 2018," Williams says. "We have been working with Ryan and his parents to make it a truly global franchise," as evidenced by 45 percent of the more than 120 million unique users, as of the first quarter, of his main YouTube channel being outside the U.S. "So we know there will be demand for consumer products internationally."

For both the social influencers and Nickelodeon, consumer products provide an opportunity for new ways to connect with consumers, in addition to creating revenue. "These people are playing on multiple platforms. We’re really excited to represent them from the consumer products perspective, because now people want to physically own a piece of the talent,” making it the equivalent of another screen or consumer touch point, Kaufman explains. "We can stay relevant to consumers by identifying these young talents and amplifying them through the power of our platforms, including TV, Pluto TV, YouTube, other digital platforms and retail. After all, Viacom is no longer just a television company” as per CEO Bob Bakish’s vision.

The success of the “extraordinary relationship” with Siwa means there are more deals with social media influencers to come. “JoJo has become a $1 billion brand. Now she is on tour, and our product line continues to expand,” says Kaufman. “We are really amplifying her across various platforms,” including with an on-air special, her co-hosting Lip Sync Battle Shorties and appearances at the Kids Choice Awards and Kids Choice Sports and more.

Siwa's consumer products, including dolls, accessories and more, are currently available in more than 30 markets, with Nickelodeon having signed more than 230 partners globally. Her signature bows have sold more than 60 million times worldwide so far. 

In a couple of weeks, Kaufman says the Nickelodeon team in Miami will go over ideas with de la Torre. Asked about Nickelodeon’s future work on consumer products for social media influencers, the executive is upbeat: “There is definitely a lot more to come.”