The majority of YouTube’s creator base finally has a home at the streaming video giant’s biggest annual convention.
When VidCon started, everyone was a creator, but it took the organization until 2015—when the world of digital video exploded to the mainstream—to create a track specifically for that portion of the YouTube community.
Last year there were two ways to attend VidCon for the general public: as a community member, relegated to signings, Q&As, and general panels, or as part of the industry, with a focus on new technology and the business of online video. This year the newly established Creator track filled the void between the two, a catch-all for people not invested in YouTube from the pure business perspective, but not just there to collect selfies and autographs of their favorite stars, either. These are the hopeful stars of tomorrow, gathered to both listen to the inspirational rallying speeches about content creation and to sit in on more focused workshops on how to get there.
“I’m not really into the whole fangirl thing,” explained Amanda, a 15-year-old Creator track attendee who has two different YouTube channels focused on vlogging, filmmaking, and sign language. “Like, yes, I have my favorite YouTubers, but I didn’t want to do any of the signings. I wanted to go upstairs, because I have my own channel. I’ve learned a lot. I went to Charlie McDonnell’s panel and learned so much about filmmaking.”
The Creator track was an experiment for VidCon—one that by and large worked out. It filled the gaping void between what Community means at VidCon and what Industry feels like.
“Community [badge holders] will look at you because you’re pulling out a vlog camera,” said Amanda, who noted that the community had long asked for something that fit between the two previous tracks. With a new badge class, likeminded creators can know who to target for building friendships and partnerships. “Now I can go up to another creator and say, ‘Hi, who are you, I want to follow your channel.’”
It filled the gaping void between what Community means at VidCon and what Industry feels like.
Amanda attended the event with three other friends, all with Creator badges; they agreed that the new badge fit their needs. They’re eyeing joining a multichannel network (MCN) next, MakerGen, since they feel like most of their Creator friends are already there. They’ve even started their own collaborations; Amanda runs a collaborative vlogging channel with 18-year-old pal Amy, whom she met online while tweeting at a favorite YouTuber. The pair met in person finally at another live YouTube event, Playlist Live, after Amanda convinced her parents to let her go under the supervision of Amy’s mom. They started vlogging shortly after that in-person meeting, speaking to the power of creators connecting offline.
“If you are an emerging artist, this is a great place to be,” explained Big Frame talent manager Andrew Graham. “It’s kind of remarkable to see that in this space, the fans are also creators. You come here first as a fan, you meet like-minded fans, and you will start producing. That’s the story of Our2ndLife; that’s the story of half our roster.”
With the Creator track now there to support creators, more collaborations are hopefully in the works. Attendees ranged from hopefuls with just a handful of subscribers to creators with tens of thousands of followers already. Whereas in years past these mid-range creators who can draw crowds of their own might have opted for an Industry badge, the Creator track allowed them a less stuffy, more connected experience with the topics that affect their day-to-day work. This year topics included practical ones like “How to Read a Contract” to the more subjective like “Raising a Family With an Audience.” They were led by creators already excelling in their fields, including Lizzie Bennet Diaries co-creator Bernie Su, who gave a solo how-to session on webseries writing where he broke down his vlog-style phenomenon. The Creator series closed out on Saturday with a two-hour session that brought a variety of creators and industry folks across the main stage for song, inspiration, and demands for diversity at the conference. To longstanding attendees, that session felt the closest to the roots of VidCon as anything in 2015, and it was all thanks to finding a space for the creators to build a home at the newly evolved conference.
However, there’s clearly room for improvement in the track, which is only in its first year. In a panel-style session on storytelling, the organizers set up circular tables instead of rows of chairs, thus forcing the attendees to spill out into the hallway. When panelist sWooZie, who has 3.4 million subscribers, started speaking vaguely about tips beauty vlogger Michelle Phan had given him for improving his channel, an attendee raised her hand and asked him to give specifics. He didn’t really go there, at least not immediately, and the panel continued forward in its own prescribed manner, not bending to the will of the eager Creator audience. There’s also space for the sessions to become more advanced or go more in depth, catering to the creator who is crossing the 10,000-subscriber threshold but isn’t established enough to earn a Featured Creator badge.
Phan’s own Icon Network, co-founded with her team at Endemol Beyond, may have hit on one possible variation on the Creator track idea that could elevate VidCon’s commitment to the mid-level and emerging talents. A few days before Anaheim was swamped with YouTubers, Viners, and YouNowers, Phan and her team gathered in Los Angeles for the Icon Summit, a two-day meeting of burgeoning talent from her own multichannel network of fashion and beauty influencers that combined inspiration, advice, and practical application. In addition to listening to business people and creators speak, the attendees were split up and tasked with filming collaborative videos. Those creations will live on their channels, a tangible memento from the event, and one that could go on to earn them bigger followings and more income.
What might benefit creators more is a structured setting that connects them with higher-level creators as well as their peers.
“We talk a great deal about online, by the very virtue of our space, but these offline interactions really add value,” said Graham. “The opportunity to come from Biloxi, Mississippi, and to come to this conference and find likeminded creators and collaborate is invaluable.”
Scaling something like that for VidCon’s attendee population, even just the Creator badge holders, is a drastic undertaking—but one worth exploring. Creators are already making content; what might benefit them more is a structured setting that connects them with higher-level creators as well as their peers, demands that their work is critiqued and improved, and sets them on the path to better creation. What’s a better takeaway from VidCon for someone looking to be the next big thing than a hands-on experience with an expert?
And if those experiences help reconnect those experts with the roots of VidCon, too? All the better.
Illustration by Max Fleishman