VidCon owes a lot to YouTube. The conference is built on the popularity of its creators and powered by the screaming, stampeding enthusiasm of its fans. It even copped the play button in its logo from the video hosting giant.
But VidCon doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The overriding theme in the industry this year has been that while YouTube is still the 800 lb. gorilla of the online video world, there are a lot of cute little apes vying for attention, and one of them could grow up to be King Kong. And that’s reflected in the lineup for the sixth annual edition of the three-day conference, which kicks off at the Anaheim Convention Center on July 23.
“I think the real danger is getting complacent and saying, ‘We’re just going to be a YouTube show,’” said Jim Louderback (pictured, right), former GM of Discovery Digital Networks, who came onboard last November to direct the programming of VidCon’s Industry Track. “You’ve got to reflect and lead what’s going on.
“We’re really trying to look across the entire spectrum of what online video and digitally delivered video looks like,” he continued. “We’re embracing Twitter and some of the new virtual reality platforms like Littlestar and Vrideo, and we’ve got [newer] streaming platforms like Meerkat, YouNow and Hangwith coming in.”
Louderback noted that there have been an increasing number of traditional media companies making bold moves in the digital video space in the past year, from CBS launching its All Access SVOD service to European broadcast giant RTL Group’s purchasing a controlling stake in StyleHaul. And both those entities will be represented at VidCon in firseside chats on July 23, with VideoInk founder Jocelyn Johnson hosting a session with RTL Group co-CEO Guillaume de Posch and Louderback presiding over one with CBS Interactive president and CEO Jim Lanzone.
The Industry Track will occupy the third floor of the convention center, where more than 2,000 representatives from over 600 companies are expected to join hundreds of online video creators to share insights about how better build and monetize channels and franchises. This year, there will be a track within the track dedicated to seminars, with 14 experts doing 20-minute hands-on sessions covering everything from thumbnail sign-ups to the secrets of using TrueView to drive audience growth on YouTube.
Louderback said the seminars were inspired by his experience dealing with employees while working as CEO of multi-channel network Revision3 (which was absorbed by Discovery Communications and renamed Discovery Digital Networks in 2012).
“People who’ve worked for me have said, ‘I want to go to VidCon,’ and I’d say, ‘What are you going to get out of it?’” recalled Louderback. “I wanted to answer that question and give you hands-on things, so that when you get back to the office on Monday you’ve got (a bunch of) different strategies you can start putting into place that day to start doing your job better.”
Louderback’s tweaks to the Industry Track bring subtle evolutionary changes to an event that has always featured a mix of business and fandom. A more obvious change is this year’s addition of a Creator Track. Set to be held on the second floor of the convention center, it will feature panels, talks and workshops focusing on the nuts and bolts of writing, editing, shooting, lighting, marketing and monetizing of content.
“There was a huge amount of demand for content that focused less on personality and more on the strategies and techniques of online video creators, whether that’s simply an interest in seeing behind the scenes or an interest in building skills and networking with other creators,” said VidCon co-founder Hank Green (pictured, left) in an email interview with VideoInk. “The Creator Track was the first track to sell out this year, so we were right to create it!”
The biggest attraction is still the Community Track, offering sessions like “Ask Joey!” with YouTuber Joey Graceffa, which promises to explain “how he keeps his hair on point” and “maintains his rigorous upload schedule for his vlog.” It will feature five stages inside and outside of the first level of the convention center, as well as over 500,000 square feet dedicated to pre-registered meet-and-greets with stars, interactive exhibits and performances.
The Community Track is expected to draw over 17,000 fans. This year, VidCon is taking steps to ensure they don’t stampede through the convention center in pursuit of their favorite digital stars as they have in years past.
While it could be argued that by reining in those enthusiastic fans, VidCon risks killing one of the things that makes it special, Green said it’s not a concern.
“The safety of the attendees is the first thing to care about, so I definitely don’t worry about changing things about the event that make people safer,” said Green, who launched VidCon with his brother John Green (author of “The Fault in Our Stars”) in 2010. “But the two main things that I think will decrease that kind of excited running around is to have the event more spaced out than ever before (we have twice as much space this year) and keeping more creators behind the scenes so there’s nothing to run to.”