By Sahil Patel
VidCon is unlike any other conference. Throngs of screaming teenagers, sold-out screenings and concerts, direct access to some of the most talented creators in online video, VidCon offers an experience unmatched by most other industry conferences.
The thing is, though, VidCon isn’t an industry conference. It’s a fan-fest, one where the YouTube community — creator and fan — comes together to celebrate itself. This is not meant to be a criticism of VidCon, which does what it does incredibly well.
The industry, as it rightfully should, takes a back seat to the community.
While every year the number of industry people attending the conference increases, the audience for industry-centric panels routinely falls behind those for the community panels. Unless there are some major YouTube creators involved, in which case the industry attendance sometimes come close to matching community.
Again, this is not meant to be a criticism, just an observation of the state of VidCon.
So while brands and media companies should be attending VidCon — to experience the entertainment culture that has developed out of YouTube and prepare for the next generation of viewers, creators, and consumers — they should do so with a desire to experience and integrate with the community. In other words, don’t attend the industry sessions.
Because the community is what feels new and fresh. The community is what’s important. The industry sessions and panels you could attend at VidCon, you could attend at many other conferences. People are still trying to figure out the same things, and you’re going to hear as many non-answers on a VidCon panel as you do at every other conference you have ever been to.
Does the industry track provide a great opportunity to network with those in the industry? Yes. But so do other well-attended conferences.
Is there a way to fix this issue?
Sure. One way could be to go back to having an industry-specific day, which would cater exclusively to the business interests of creators, various online video executives, and everyone else involved and interested in the YouTube industry.
Though, having spoken to a few executives and creators both before and during VidCon, it might make more sense to go even a bit further.
What about a private conference that invites only talent, media, agency, and brand executives, venture capitalists, and studio executives, and other important people in the online video space? This would be a closed-door conference, with a directive to talk openly and honestly about how to make progress in terms of revenue and monetization as the industry continues to mature. It could also make it possible to get actual deals and partnerships done.
What about an event that brings talent and their top fans — those who themselves are influential online — together to figure out new ways to activate and monetize their communities?
Both of those ideas were proposed to me by people whose names command attention in our industry.
Yes, there are logistical hurdles to making either idea a reality in any sort of functional and successful way. But I think it speaks to a desire for the industry wanting to plot out where it needs to go next — how it chooses to mature.
An agency executive predicted earlier this year that 2014 will be when the YouTube world grows up, likely in the form of a “hit” piece of content.
Well, VidCon co-founder John Green already has a bestselling novel and now a $100 million movie.
It’s time for the rest of the industry to follow suit.
VidCon is a tentpole event for the online video business, and will continue to grow in stature as the years go by. Only 30 of 100 big brands might have taken YouTube’s offer to attend the the fest this year, but I’m willing to bet that number increases every year.
More people are paying attention. You can go as far as to say online video is getting ready for primetime. The industry just needs to figure out how to attract those eyeballs, not just the ones of screaming teenagers.