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Disney unboxes the Force to drive buzz for Star Wars toys

starwarstoysLOS ANGELES--When technology and geek culture enthusiast Chris Pirillo purchased his iPhone 6 last year, he rushed home to broadcast himself unboxing the item live on YouTube.

The video has garnered nearly 50,000 views and is part of the growing craze of 'unboxing' that is a centerpiece of a live global Walt Disney event, starting on Wednesday evening in Australia, to unveil new toys from its December movie "Star Wars: The Force Awakens".

The goal? To drive up excitement ahead of "Force Friday" on September 4. That is when new "Star Wars" toys and other merchandise from companies such as Hasbro and Lego will be released in stores and online around the world just after midnight.

The Disney event, to be live-streamed online, is the most high-profile embrace to date of unboxing, where people film themselves opening and trying out new toys and gadgets. "It really created the perfect opportunity to take the new products to fans directly," said Josh Silverman, executive vice president of global licensing at Disney Consumer Products.

For those unboxers who can draw audiences, it's big business. Eighteen of the top 100 YouTube channels are devoted to toys and toy unboxing and accounted for 8.1 billion views from January through March, according to Tubefilter figures provided by Disney.

Unboxing on YouTube goes beyond toys, with viewers drawn to YouTubers showing off their 'hauls' in beauty, fashion and technology. Some unboxers can earn millions of dollars from ads that run ahead of their videos or in some cases from manufacturers who pay them to feature their products.

For the newest line of "Star Wars" toys that will include lightsabers, spaceships and characters from the upcoming "Force Awakens" film, Disney recruited stars from Maker Studios, which it acquired last year. "Most of these creators started off as fans, and that's the draw, it's fans making content for other fans," said Chris Williams, chief audience officer at Maker Studios.

Disney is not paying the 14 unboxers, Williams said, but is covering travel and expenses to take each of them to a location and film them opening and playing with the new "Star Wars" toys. Each user will be opening different toys. "Disney has a certain business goal here and what any marketer is trying to do is tap into a cultural vibe without seeming so heavy-handed that it'll be a turn-off," said licensing expert Martin Brochstein.

The live event kicks off in Australia with family video-bloggers Bratayley, and hands over to unboxers across Asia, Europe, South America and North America, ending in San Francisco on Thursday morning with Pirillo. "What makes unboxing work so well is that the person watching may not have that experience," said 42-year-old Pirillo, who has 346,000 YouTube subscribers.

Pirillo's posts, often titled #GeekFather, draw a core fanbase of families, he said, and created a community of "kidults," adults indulging their inner child.

The key to engaging that audience, according to Pirillo, is his emotional reactions when he unboxes content, and it's what differentiates unboxers from reviewers. "It's not that they trust someone who is unboxing as someone who is objective," he said. "They probably trust them because they're not objective, because they know how much that product means to them."

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