Why a Russian cartoon bear is more popular than Taylor Swift on YouTube

Because “YouTube has become a babysitter and playmate and TV channel."

By | 3 minute read | March 19, 2018

A sculpture of the main characters from the Masha and the Bear animated series.

Most of the top ten most-watched YouTube videos of all time are basically what you’d expect them to be: Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” And then there’s the Russian cartoon bear.

Clocking in at number six, an episode of the Russian animated series “Masha and the Bear” entitled “Recipe for Disaster” has been viewed more than 2.9 billion times as of this writing, making it the only non-music video to crack YouTube’s top 10.

It’s worth putting the popularity of this video into perspective. “Recipe for Disaster” has been viewed more times than Adele’s music video for “Hello.” It’s been viewed more times than any Bieber music video. And it’s been viewed more than twice as many times as the next highest-ranking “Masha and the Bear” episode.

“Masha and the Bear,” which is produced by Moscow-based Animaccord Animation Studio, is loosely based on a children’s folk story of the same name. The show, which debuted in 2009, relays the adventures of a mischievous little girl named Masha and a retired circus bear who keeps her out of trouble. Thought the series was “conceived as a local project, tailored to the Russian audience,” according to Animaccord managing director Dmitry Loveyko, it has huge international appeal. About two-thirds of Animaccord’s YouTube royalties come from views outside Russia, Loveyko said in 2016.

In “Recipe for Disaster,” the bear is in the middle of playing checkers against himself when Masha interrupts him and asks him to feed her. The bear cooks some porridge for her, but Masha doesn’t like it, and the bear leaves their house to play in peace. Masha decides to cook for herself, but it overflows and eventually explodes. Masha cleans it up and ends up stuck with a lot of unwanted leftovers. “Oh, I’ve made such a cruel gruel!” Masha exclaims at the episode’s conclusion.

Those 6 minutes and 52 seconds of video are a global phenomenon. Why? The answer is strongly connected to YouTube’s growing power as a digital entertainment provider for children. Channels designed for children are regularly among YouTube’s most-viewed. And “Recipe for Disaster isn’t the only high-performing video on the platform. Little Baby Bum’s “Wheels On The Bus” 54-minute nursery rhyme compilation, for instance, is the 20th most-watched YouTube video of all time. The irony here is rich: A video for babies has been viewed more times than Justin Beiber’s “Baby,” which itself was, at one point, the most-watched YouTube video of all time.

By 2021, video traffic will account for 82 percent of all consumer Internet traffic. Kids may not purchase data plans or own their own streaming devices, but they are clearly big contributors to spiking traffic. To keep up with demand, service providers will need to reach beyond the limits of their network’s capacity by virtualizing in the cloud. “YouTube, in particular, has emerged as an alternative to traditional children’s TV – although it’s probably more accurate to say that the two are merging: plenty of popular children’s TV shows are now on YouTube in some form, while to young viewers – many on tablets – it’s all just ‘video,’” wrote the Guardian’s Stuart Dredge.

Indeed, “Masha and the Bear” is broadcast on TV stations in more than 100 countries. But it’s also distributed on Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and, of course, YouTube, making it a truly multi-platform hit.

“Because Masha and the Bear began as TV series, its presence on key media platforms continues to be a vital element of building and maintaining general awareness of the brand. Selecting the best available partners for multi-platform launches in each territory, Animaccord has adopted a unique media strategy for the property,” writes Animation World Network’s Jennifer Wolfe.

YouTube’s success as a children’s entertainment hub has been so dramatic, in fact, it’s become a fundamental part of both parenthood and childhood.

“YouTube has become a babysitter and playmate and TV channel,” TechCrunch’s John Biggs wrote.