Nobody I know likes family channels on YouTube. They are under constant criticism for exploiting their kids. Their morals are constantly in question. People often think they are clout chasers. Besides the occasional adult who has a guilty pleasure, it is mostly the territory of pre-teens and children. With that being said, dozens of family and childhood accounts are on YouTube for the public to absorb and love. It’s lucrative and bonding, so says the families’ who are successful. Families’ who do it praise the ability to work from home with their kids.
YouTube’s First Family
Shay Carl Butler and his wife, Colette, started their channel in 2008. The Shaytards (can’t tell you how much I hate typing that) as they are now known, are thought of the first YouTube Family. They began posting vlogs of him and his (then two, now five) kids. Butler has been consistently posting his kids growing up, family pranks and his personal journey for the last twelve years. The Shaytards have even done daily vlogs for years on end. Butler began his own production company, Maker Studios, with a group of other YouTubers in 2009. This quickly took off and by 2012, had 1000 channels signed to it, amassing over a billion views per month. Butler and his team sold the production company to Disney for $500 million in 2014.
Ryan’s ToyReview, now Ryan’s World, began his channel with his mom reviewing the toys he played with. He started making videos when he was four years old. This began from his own desire after seeing other children’s YouTube videos. He quickly became a hit with other kids in his age range. Companies quickly began sending him their toys to test. Ryan Kaji, as he is professionally known, is one of the most-watched people on YouTube. He’s often one of the highest-earning, if not the highest-earning. It’s estimated he rakes in about $30 million a year. His videos have expanded to be educational and informative for kids.
The Ace Family began vlogging in 2016 and quickly flourished. They’ve become a name synonymous with family channel. They have amassed a massive fortune and have begun raising two kids from birth on camera. The first child born months before they began vlogging. They post multiple times a week and have been the center of many a gossip’s tale. Austin McBroom and Catherine Paiz created their channel documenting their relationship, their pranks, and raising their daughter’s raising five years ago. They’re now one of the highest-earning YouTubers. They’re well-known for extravagance and outlandishness. For example, they host basketball events, do constant give-aways, have created a clothing line, an app, a skincare line, and a juice line.
Growing a family brand on YouTube starts with being relatable and likeable. Making connections with other families can help bring in new viewers. This is a win-win for both brands because it shows relatability and reality to viewers in a normal way, while simultaneously introducing the family to new people. Tapping into viral trends and making videos based on these, like fads, pranks or games can grasp viewer’s attention in through searches or similar successful videos. Creating funny content that’s good for kids to view is a great way to increase subscribers. Kids and their parents want child-friendly and educational or beneficial videos that they can watch that’s free and entertaining. By focusing your demographic onto a younger age group, you’re grabbing at easily swayed viewers. Therefore, you can request more from advertisers, as well.
Using Instagram or TikTok to grow a fan base is great. Because of Instagram and TikTok’s interface, you get content exposed to people who wouldn’t have otherwise found it on YouTube. It also increases revenue stream. TikTok has a creator fund, which when in (at 10,000 followers) you can make money off views. You can also reach out to companies for advertisements once a significant portion of people have watched a video. Likewise, on Instagram, once a small group of followers is in your pocket, you can make money from advertisers and connect with followers and other creators.
The main criticism of the Ace Family that I constantly see is that they are exploiting their kids for revenue. Mother and father are insistent that when the kids don’t want to film, they don’t film them. Family Vloggers insist they have distinct private moments and that the kids are aware and consent when they’re on video. Still, it’s uncomfortable to the viewer to not know for sure if the kids are actually consenting. It’s also hard to gouge whether kids even can consent. Children’s brains are still forming and their entire sphere of influence and frame of reference comes from their parents. If their parents seem happier filming, a child wanting to appease them might just pretend to be in the mood to film to do so.
Another ethical concern is how it affects the kids to be on camera, for presentation and consumption, since birth. They are the first of a generation of Truman Show babies. Who knows what happens mentally to someone brought up on camera? Millions of people watching you grow up. Millions knowing your most intimate moments. Does this type of raising have an effect on children? How can they determine the difference between public and private if they haven’t even developed motor function yet?
In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, writer and sociologist Ervin Goffman theorizes that people will perform as more kind, considerate or personable while they perceive being watched. Being on camera all the time and being unaware when you are or are not on camera – think prank videos or genuine reaction videos – might create a more profound effect on a child’s social interaction and social perception. While it’s obviously good to act decent all the time, the emotional toil of behaving badly while being watched and having millions shame a child could also have harmful effects.
Children want to see themselves in the media, but social media and stage parenting have combined in a scary way. Encouraging a child to involve themselves in family hobbies is a great bonding experience but drawing a line between public and private is difficult and might be hard for a child to determine. If done correctly it’s an extremely lucrative business, but is everyone ready for the ethical or future implications involved?