The 4th annual VidCon was my first experience with really any kind of convention. Oh, I went to a few baseball card conventions back in the day when I was young, but experiencing something as a fan (and when you’re much older) is different from experiencing it as an industry person. I was always on the lookout for something to report. Maybe that’s the wrong way to approach something like this. I’d say that anyone who came in a fan of their favorite video creators probably left very happy. I feel like I also enjoyed myself for the most part.
I only spent three hours each on Friday and Saturday walking around the event. The main floor is as you would expect: tons of booths from video startups and channels. One area that was hard to ignore was the SourceFed section: they set up a living room complete with their trademark couch that people could just hang out in. Bordered by that was a meeting place, where I saw much of the SourceFed crew welcoming fans, signing stuff, and taking pictures. Of note were hosts Meg Turney, Steve Zaragoza, and especially Trisha Hershberger, who greeted everyone with huge smiles and genuine appreciation (that’s not to say the others were horrible, but the excitement was palpable with those). Their booth was a clinic on how to appreciate fans.
Not too far from SourceFed’s booth was Discovery/Revision3’s setup, where it was impossible to miss a 60-foot shark:
And that shark ate a bunch of YouTubers and fans and various huge items. It might have been the most impressive thing at VidCon–which was weird, because it was a huge advertisement for the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” and had very little to do with video itself. It’s kind of like seeing that booth for the new Ashton Kutcher movie “Jobs,” the biopic about Steve Jobs. That’s what we expect from conventions, I guess, nowadays: there are those who use any opportunity, however incongruent, to drive awareness.
I went to several panels, but the one titled, “The Art of Saying No” actually had some of the most memorable points. First, let me get this out of the way: it’s amazing to me that when “sound” is cited as one of the top reasons a viewer will leave a video, that better sound wasn’t addressed at VidCon. This was the hardest-to-hear panel I went to. They might as well not even had microphones. Anyway, the panel included KassemG, reps from MCNs Fullscreen and Big Frame, and Philip DeFranco, among others.
The panel was about how to say “no” to sponsors when your channel is big enough and you start getting approached by brands that may not make sense for you. It’s easy to want to grab the money whenever you can, but it’s a disservice to your viewers to create content that doesn’t make sense for your channel. DeFranco said something along the lines that the money he gets from his channel comes from mostly merchandise and then ad revenue, not sponsors.
Another point DeFranco made that I thought was especially important (even though it’s been said before, it’s worth mentioning again), was positioning your content to not rely solely on YouTube. DeFranco has been espousing the philosophy of “Make YouTube your base of operations, but be sure to expand outside of it in case things go wrong.” It’s a derivative of not putting all your eggs in one basket. He cited the PhillyD app, in which should YouTube completely crash tomorrow, fans can access the app and still watch new videos, while still using the YouTube player.
I’ll also cite as a memorable moment: the Industry Keynote from Jim Louderback entitled, “TABOO: The 7 Words You Can’t Say About TV and Video.” Louderback, as he proved at our own Summit (which he gave a shout-out to during the keynote), has an engaging presence. He’s got the voice and the enthusiasm to command your attention–it would be fun listening to him read the phone book.
His speech opened up the panel for “The Art of Engaging,” starring iJustine, ShayCarl, DeFranco, and VidCon co-founder John Green. The general sentiment there was what we’ve been talking about for awhile now: YouTube is a social video platform, and it’s all about engaging your fans. ShayCarl said something like, “I remember when I had 200 subscribers, and I realize that’s more than is in this room. Then you get 20,000 subscribers and you start thinking about how your followers could start filling stadiums.” DeFranco made the point that what’s important to him is not so much the amount of subscribers, but “who’s talking about this,” comparing it to followers on Facebook. The engagement numbers are way more important than the amount of people who “follow” you.
All in all, I’d say I got some good information out of VidCon. Even though the Anaheim Convention Center was covered in pre-teen and teenage girls looking to get autographs from many YouTubers I had never heard of, and there were several irrelevant booths on the main floor, and the panels had some bad sound, I did glean some powerful information out of the experience.