Thursday, July 09, 2020

How a 6-year-old Russian girl became YouTube's most popular child star

Apr 26. 2020
 Anastasia Radzinskaya/ Credit: Like Nastya YouTube channel
Anastasia Radzinskaya/ Credit: Like Nastya YouTube channel
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By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Mark Bergen, Lucas Shaw · TECHNOLOGY, ENTERTAINMENT, MEDIA

In a video posted online in December, Anastasia Radzinskaya, a 6-year-old YouTube star who goes by Nastya, plays a tough-talking cop. At the start of the skit, the pixyish blond performer looks in the mirror and pulls on a police cap. "I'm going to teach you a lesson, criminals," she says, rapping a toy baton in the palm of her hand. 

For the next several minutes, she patrols a street, blowing a traffic whistle, brandishing her shiny police badge and sternly laying down the law. At one point, she pulls over a careless driver, played by her father and frequent co-star Yuri, who tries to connive his way out of trouble by slipping her a stack of bills. "A bribe!" she yells. "Go to jail, now!"

Since December, when the video first appeared on her "Like Nastya" YouTube channel in Radzinskaya's native Russian, the kid cop routine has generated more than 90 million views. Another version of the video, re-edited for English-speaking viewers, has since tallied up another 7 million views. Two additional versions, dubbed in Indonesian and Korean, have generated more than 2 million views since February. Spanish and Arabic versions will be posted soon.

While Nastya is hardly the first youngster to earn laughs online by mock disciplining a naughty parent, she has achieved a level of global stardom that is rare for artists of any age. Depending on the month, "Like Nastya" has been the third- or fourth-most-popular channel on YouTube in the world, according to SocialBlade. Nastya's broader network of channels, which dub her performances into nine different languages, generates around 100 million views a day. 

Last year, thanks to Nastya's popularity and global reach, the Radzinskayas earned more than $18 million from YouTube. Recently, they relocated to South Florida, where they continue to crank out videos for her young fans around the world. 

"They're the first family to really understand the globalization opportunity," said Eyal Baumel, who advises Anastasia and her parents on their YouTube strategy in exchange for a cut of their advertising sales. 

In the past, most YouTube creators didn't feel compelled to tailor their videos to different international markets because the video service is huge and can help them reach every country without having to pay for dubbing. Nastya's success may force other top YouTube acts to rethink that strategy. "For some content, localization can double or triple revenue," Baumel said.

As with many top YouTube acts, Nastya's rise to fame and fortune can feel somewhat baffling. Her parents, Yuri and Anna, don't speak English fluently, and the origin story they tell about their prodigy daughter has always been shrouded in a bit of mystery. During a recent video interview, conducted through a translator, her parents said they weren't dreaming of international fame and fortune when they posted their first video of Nastya on YouTube on Jan. 25, 2016, two days before her second birthday. They just wanted to prove she was not fatally ill.

At the time, doctors in Krasnodar, a city of more than 700,000 resident in southern Russia where Nastya was born, believed she had cerebral palsy and might never speak. But their diagnosis, her parents said, was wrong. When they first witnessed their daughter making significant verbal progress, they were overjoyed and wanted to capture it on film. They sent the resulting video to her doctors, to their relatives, and posted it online. "We didn't expect anyone else to watch it," said Yuri. 

For months, not many people did. But as it turned out, not only could their daughter speak but she had a strong presence on screen. She could ham it up like a seasoned pro. Eventually, one clip featuring Nastya playing with a batch of colorful "slime" (a beloved genre among toddler fans on YouTube) resulted in tens of thousands of viewers. "It was unreal," said Anna. "We couldn't understand what was going on."

As Nastya's audience grew, the Radzinskayas applied for YouTube's partner program, in which video creators get a cut of the revenue generated from the ads that the video-sharing giant automatically loads onto their channels. For the first few months, they failed to top the $100 minimum revenue threshold that YouTube creators must surpass before they start getting paid. But then, in the middle of 2017, they got their first check. Things grew rapidly from there. 

Anna, an event planner by training, began writing scripts and coordinating filming schedules for the videos, which featured her daughter playing with dolls, exploring playgrounds and opening up "surprise eggs" (another YouTube favorite) to reveal the toys hidden inside. Yuri, who ran a construction company, quit his day job and essentially became a full-time sidekick performer on "Like Nastya." Thick armed and tattooed, Yuri could pass for a goon in a Russian mobster flick. Over time, he and Anastasia have developed a strong comedic rapport, which the Radzinskayas cite as the primary reason for their astounding popularity.

While other YouTube child performers tend to adopt the site's popular blogging style, speaking directly to viewers as they unbox toys or shop in a mall, "Like Nastya" videos usually involve short, episodic plots. The storylines are simple enough for a 3-year-old to follow. Heavy doses of sound effects, jump cuts and slapstick humor are like sugar for young audiences, said Heather Kirkorian, a professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies cognitive development and media. "It's like 'The Three Stooges,'" she said. "That plays really well with preschoolers."

During a trip through Southeast Asia in 2017, the family realized just how far their videos had traveled. Children recognized them from YouTube and stopped them in public. In Malaysia, Yuri recalled, "They came up to us and said, 'Why aren't you in our language? We like watching you.'"

Yuri and Anna searched online for help to manage their newfound fame and eventually teamed up with Baumel. Along with a team of fellow Russian ex-pats, Baumel runs Yoola, a YouTube multichannel network based in Los Angeles, which specializes in maximizing the attention paid to YouTube creators. Part of Baumel's skillset is to take a rising YouTube channel from one country and to repackage its videos to appeal to viewers around the world. The key, he says, is dubbing the videos into multiple languages and editing them to match the viewing habits of particular countries.

Among Baumel's clients is SlivkiShow, a Russian YouTube account with 16 million subscribers, that posts baroque science experiments. (Typical video headline: "EXPERIMENT! WHAT IF you smoke 300 CIGARETTES!") After signing the performers on with Yoola, Baumel set them up with an English channel that added 1 million subscribers in three years, and a German channel that is nearing 2 million.

For "Like Nastya," Baumel applied the same formula, helping the family create channels in English and German and doubling their sales within four months. The Radzinskayas now employ a staff of about 20 people, some of whom are responsible for finding people to translate and dub the videos into the various languages. The translators hail from all over the world, and many of them are native speakers so they can understand local cultures and slang. The translators send in the audio, and a team of technicians then sync it up with the action onscreen. After the main Russian channel, Nastya's four biggest offshoots are in English, Spanish, Arabic and Portuguese.

Frequent posting also matters, and that's where it can get tricky working with a performer who is still in elementary school. Nastya attends a private school five days a week. She also studies Mandarin and Spanish in her free time, according to her parents, and takes lessons in singing, acting and dancing. Every weekend, her family films two videos. During the week, they shoot one more. "She is very talented; she is very creative," Yuri said. "Out of every situation, out of everything, she is able to make something unusual."

The parents say they won't make their daughter work any more than she wants to and that a large portion of her earnings are set aside in a separate bank account. "It all depends on her, truly," Yuri said. "If she'll wake up tomorrow and say she doesn't want to do it, we won't do it."

As every top YouTube performer knows, you can never rest for too long. There is always a tireless crop of up-and-comers, cranking out videos, hungry to supersede them. In recent weeks, another child star has supplanted Nastya in some YouTube popularity rankings. Along the way, SocialBlade showed Nastya suddenly trailing behind "Kids Diana Show." The channel stars a Ukrainian girl who is 6 years old. 

 

 

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