By Sahil Patel
When conducting interviews prior to attending VidCon (my first), the most common thing I heard was about how “eye-opening” of an experience it would be — to see thousands of teens go crazy for a group of new media stars that most people outside of the 12–18 age-bracket would not be able to recognize. To be fair, these prognostications weren’t wrong.
A quick anecdote: I was having dinner at the Hilton right across the entrance to the Anaheim Convention Center on Friday night. At one point, a random kid covered his head with a hoodie and started running across the lobby, only to be chased by 20–30 teenagers, many of whom had a camera out trying to grab a picture of who they thought was a YouTube star. I’m pretty sure it was a prank, but it should give you an idea of the type of devotion new media people refer to when they talk about YouTube stars and VidCon.
So yes, there is something happening on YouTube that big media and brands should pay attention to. And as VidCon looks to expand to four days next year as well as a spin-off a UK version within the year, it’ll be interesting to see how the conference manages its position within the online video ecosystem.
With that in mind, when it comes to VidCon 2014, here is what I’m hoping for:
More Follow Fullscreen’s Footsteps
On the second day of VidCon, Fullscreen invited a bunch of its media and brand partners to VidCon, took them on a tour of the expo hall to get a first-hand look at how crazy teenagers are for their favorite YouTube celebrities, and then hosted meet-and-greets with some of the top creators in the Fullscreen network. MCNs can be great middlemen for connecting YouTube creators with media companies and brands, and vice versa. Fullscreen did that in a real-world setting, which also happened to be the ideal place to show brands and media companies everything they keep hearing about during pitch meetings. It’s not hard to imagine that more MCNs and new media companies will look to do this next year.
More “Tentpole” Announcements from Creators
During VidCon, we learned of Pemberley Digital’s plans to adapt Jane Austen’s “Emma” for the web; Hannah Hart, Mamrie Hart, and Grace Helbig’s plans to release a feature film via Chill.com; and a new season of The Fine Brothers’ “MyMusic” series. Maybe VidCon will someday go the way of Comic-Con, and become a conference somewhat co-opted by Hollywood and big online media companies to announce web video projects. Yes, some will consider that VidCon “selling out,” as many creators primarily look at the conference as a way for them to meet their biggest fans. But until that day comes, the conference still provides a terrific platform to start building buzz for upcoming projects — it just makes sense to announce them there.
Less Panels, More Interactive Session Formats for Industry Track
It’s very easy to get bored at conferences. That’s less of an issue when you have as many things going on as VidCon does, but specific to Industry Track on days two and three, I think it would make more sense to introduce interactive sessions and other types of formats to the program. Industry Day already has great panels, and from what I saw, there were a lot of independent creators, writers, and producers attending Industry Track, many of whom had a lot of questions they wanted answered. That’s sometimes tougher to do in a panel format, which often only leaves five or 10 minutes for questions. It’s also very easy for panels to devolve into people sticking to party lines and marketing-speak, without going too much into detail about the topic at hand. Some of that can be fixed by a strong moderator, but it’s no guarantee. Plus, attendees want to hear more from the speakers, not the guy asking questions (though I did enjoy being that guy!).
Less YouTube, More Others
YouTube is going to remain indelibly linked to VidCon, and for good reason. But VidCon remains a terrific platform for the other video guys — from programmers to platforms — to be present at. Blip attended this year, Conde Nast Entertainment showed up. I saw some traditional media folks, including several from NBCUniversal, there as well. It’s a great forum for networking, scouting new talent (with a built-in audience), and even staying up to date with what others are doing in the industry. Regardless of where you stand on whether VidCon should be celebrated or decried as “simply a fan-fest,” it’s still absolutely worth attending.