December 30 (Forbes) – Anastasia Radzinskaya is an unlikely media star. Born in southern Russia with cerebral palsy, her doctors feared she would never be able to speak. To document her development through treatments, her parents posted videos of her on YouTube so friends and relatives could see the progress.
The videos are typical kid stuff: playdates with dad, jumping around on an inflatable castle and playing with her cat, each video accompanied by catchy jingles and voice-over giggles. She soon gained followers around the world. Her biggest hit was a 2018 trip to the petting zoo with her father Yuri that featured the two dancing to child favorite “Baby Shark,” milking a pretend cow and eating ice cream. That video has garnered 767 million views, the top draw for a growing media business that has funneled $18 million to the Radzinskayas between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019.
Anastasia, who goes by “Nastya,” now has 107 million subscribers across her seven channels who have watched her videos 42 billion times. She is No. 3 on the Forbes Top-Earning YouTube Stars ranking for 2019, which tallies pretax income collected from advertisements, sponsored content, merchandise sales, tours and more.
That’s a pretty good showing for a 5-year-old, but not quite as good as 8-year-old Ryan Kaji, this year’s top YouTube earner with $26 million. The elder influencer rose to fame in the “unboxing” genre, opening presents in front of the camera and comments on each. Ryan ToysReview debuted in 2015 and now has grown into a children’s channel called Ryan’s World with 23 million subscribers.
“YouTube is the most popular babysitter in the world,” says Eyal Baumel, CEO of management company Yoola, which specializes in digital stars, including Nastya.
Videos with children in them average almost three times as many views as other types of videos from high-subscriber channels, according to a Pew Research Center study done this year. Another Pew study revealed that 81% of parents with children 11 or younger let their kids watch YouTube.
High-minded programming can be found on YouTube—it just doesn’t make much money. YouTube’s ten highest earners brought in a total of $162 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019, including Ryan and Nastya, as well a five gamers who play popular titles like Minecraft and Fortnite. Dude Perfect (No. 2, with $20 million), features five thirtysomethings playing with adolescent toys like a giant Nerf ball, and Rhett and Link (No. 4, with $17.5 million), who perform food stunts like tasting Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-flavored Pop-Tarts.
As the kids have shown, the videos are just the start. Ryan now has a line of branded toys, clothing and home goods sold at Target, Walmart and Amazon, a spinoff television show on Nickelodeon and a deal with Hulu to repackage his videos. Nastya, who gets six-figure checks from sponsor brands including Dannon and Legoland, will be launching a line of toys and mobile game, and publishing a book next year. Last year, she moved with her parents from Krasnodar, Russia, and now lives in Boca Raton, Florida.
And who can blame them for cashing in? YouTube is working to limit revenue possibilities for children’s channels in response to a settlement with the FTC for allegedly violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act rule. YouTube’s first step is a ban on targeted ads for kids’ content that begins next year. It’s been said by creators that the new guidelines may also affect natural search results so children’s videos don’t appear at the top of Google searches. That’s a direct hit at potential earnings, which come predominantly from pre-roll advertising spends.
Anastasia, at least, is already thinking of Plan B. She dreams of becoming a dolphin trainer and cat doctor.
“I wish I had the answer,” Chas Lacaillade, the founder and CEO of child star agency Bottle Rocket Management, says of landing that elusive secret to success. “I’d be a wealthier man.”
#10 | VanossGaming (Evan Fong)
Earnings: $11.5 million
Evan Fong, who’s known online as “VanossGaming,” notched over 1.5 billion views in our scoring period with his videos of Grand Theft Auto V and Minecraft.
#9 | DanTDM (Daniel Middleton)
Earnings: $12 million
The British Minecraft and Fortnite player has long been one of the most popular on YouTube. He has a worldwide audience and takes his live tour to fans across the globe.
#7 (tie) | Markiplier (Mark Fischbach)
Earnings: $13 million
Mark Fischbach, more commonly known by his online name “Markiplier,” is a favorite for sponsors looking to reach the gaming community. He’s also promoting himself; he and fellow YouTuber Jacksepticeye cofounded Cloak, a high-end line of clothing for gamers.
#7 (tie) | PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg)
Earnings: $13 million
Once YouTube’s top-earning star, the gamer, who was born Felix Kjellberg, has managed to shrug off a number of controversies—including racist and anti-Semitic videos. He announced this month, though, that he’s taking a break from YouTube.
#6 | Preston (Preston Arsement)
Earnings: $14 million
One of two newcomers on this year’s list, Preston Arsement got his start playing Call of Duty and quickly became so popular that he started posting friendly pranks in addition to his gaming content. Outside of YouTube, his biggest moneymakers are the Minecraft servers he runs for seven figures annually.
#5 | Jeffree Star
Earnings: $17 million
After getting his start as a musician on MySpace, Jeffree Star moved to YouTube, where he found a following doing makeup tutorials. He now uses his channel to tout his makeup line, which he says does at least eight figures in revenue thanks to its popular lipsticks, highlighters and eye shadow palettes.
#4 | Rhett and Link
Earnings: $17.5 million
Two of YouTube’s first stars, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, host Good Mythical Morning, one of YouTube’s most popular daily show on which they eat foods like Cheetos-flavored Pop-Tarts and sing with stars like Kelly Rowland. They’ve expanded their brand of comedy to four channels, a podcast, two books and, earlier this year, purchased the multichannel network Smosh for a reported $10 million.
#3 | Anastasia Radzinskaya
Earnings: $18 million
The Russian-born 5-year-old has become one of the world’s fastest-growing creators, thanks to videos in seven languages that feature her playing with her dad on her channels including Like Nastya. Brands have noticed, with Legoland and Dannon shelling out at six figures to work with her.
#2 | Dude Perfect
Earnings: $20 million
Five friends in their 30s—Coby Cotton, Cory Cotton, Garret Hilbert, Cody Jones and Tyler Toney—play sports, perform stunts and break Guinness World Records. Their videos, like “Bowling Trick Shots” and “Bubble Wrap Battle,” helped them score a TV contract The Dude Perfect Show, which airs on Nickelodeon.
#1 | Ryan Kaji
Earnings: $26 million
Eight-year-old Kaji got his start on the channel when he was just 3 years old by unboxing toys on camera. He’s matured to conducting science experiments and branched out beyond YouTube with a line of more than 100 toys, clothing items and more, a show on Nickelodeon and a deal with Hulu.
METHODOLOGY: All earnings estimates are from June 1, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Earnings estimates are based on data from Captiv8, SocialBlade and Pollstar as well as interviews with industry insiders. For the list’s purposes, Forbes defines a YouTube Star as someone whose primary form of digital and media revenue comes from YouTube.