How VidCon became a media power broker
VidCon, the digital video industry’s version of Comic-Con, is making its case to become a must-attend event for the digital media and advertising industries, on par with the Cannes Lions and CES.
Instead of spending the third week of June in the south of France with fellow senior executives at brands, agencies and media companies, Noah Mallin will be in Anaheim, California, at VidCon. “And I’m not sorry about that at all,” said the head of experience, content and sponsorships at GroupM’s Wavemaker.
This year will mark the ninth VidCon, an annual conference that originated as a way for fans to meet their favorite YouTube stars and has grown into a place for digital video networks, platforms, brands and agencies to gather as well. But it will be the first that Mallin will attend because he feels spending a few days in and around the Anaheim Convention Center will be a more meaningful use of his time than sipping rosé on someone’s yacht.
“With VidCon, you can really roll up your sleeves, learn something, meet people who you’re not going to meet someplace else and have an experience that’s going to directly translate into the work that you do with your clients,” Mallin said. “That’s pretty meaningful.”
The agency executive isn’t the only one that has made VidCon more of a priority this year. LinkedIn, which debuted its video platform last year, will participate in its first video creator summit at VidCon this year, according to VidCon CEO Jim Louderback. Additionally, Snapchat and Amazon’s Twitch have become official sponsors of VidCon, alongside the event’s main sponsor, YouTube, as well as Facebook and Twitter. An estimated 30,000 people attend VidCon over its three days, not including a pre-party for industry execs and a concert, Louderback said.
For the first time, Facebook will host a booth for fans that will promote the social network’s Watch video hub, and feature appearances by creators like Laura Clery and Doug the Pug, according to a company spokesperson.
“Every creator that is going to be presenting onstage will have access to the Twitter green room and be in our space as opposed to trying to get people before or after [they talk] to go to a hotel or somewhere off campus,” said Dennis Todisco, global head of creator community at Twitter-owned influencer marketing firm Niche.
Having many of the major video platforms formally involved with VidCon may be particularly important this year as a show of the event’s independence following its sale to Viacom in February.
“Our first rule of thumb when we bought VidCon — and we preached it religiously — is to do no harm,” said Kelly Day, president of Viacom Digital Studios. Viacom-owned Nickelodeon has been a VidCon staple for years and MTV will also sponsor a booth, but both companies paid for those booths, like VidCon’s other sponsors. When asked if Viacom received a friends-and-family discount on the booth fees, Day said, “not as much as you would think.”
But VidCon will change following Viacom’s acquisition. Day and Louderback are already looking at how they can expand VidCon’s three programming tracks — “industry” for business types, “creator” for the video makers and “community” for the fans — to have vertical-specific tracks for beauty vloggers or creators that produce animal videos or do-it-yourself craft videos. Viacom is also interested in how it can expand VidCon into its own media entity beyond the events business, said Day. As an example of what she has in mind, Day cited a show that VidCon and MTV are producing that will follow a creator attending VidCon for the first time this year.
VidCon has changed as it has grown. Whereas originally, top creators walked the halls among their fans, as a safety precaution in recent years, their presence has been limited to onstage appearances and autograph signings while being otherwise sequestered to the upper floors of nearby hotels with entryways guarded by security officers. That isolation eliminates the “YouTube IRL” feel of VidCon.
Reach Agency has brought clients such as DiGiorno and Hallmark to VidCon for the past five years, using it to cycle through meetings with creators that a brand has previously worked with or is planning to work with. “Clients are spread throughout the country. Having the opportunity to identify people who we want to work with and meet these people in person has been incredibly valuable,” said Gabe Gordon, the agency’s managing partner. “As brands are exploring longer-term relationships [with creators] and the levels of investment are getting higher, there’s a lot of value in terms of relationship management to have a client sit down with the talent.”
Katrina Frank is on the other side of those meetings as vp of brand integrations at digital video network Kin Community and similarly uses VidCon to set in motion deals between Kin’s creators and brands. While she said that VidCon isn’t where the deals actually get done, she has “definitely done deals coming out of VidCon.”
The deal-making at VidCon may increase thanks to the Viacom acquisition ginning up interest among those who have never been and may now opt to attend. Both Mallin and Gordon said the acquisition signals the event’s importance to marketers, and Frank said the same as it relates to media companies. In addition to Viacom’s TV networks, NBC continues to sponsor booths at VidCon, and Frank expects the event to further reflect the ongoing convergence between traditional and digital entertainment. And for Day’s part, the Viacom exec “certainly wouldn’t be opposed to” streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon establishing official presences at VidCon.
“I don’t think it would reflect what’s really happening in the online video industry if we didn’t have everybody there and represented,” said Day.
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