The 5th annual VidCon just completed in Anaheim, CA this past weekend with over 18,000 attendees. It may be called VidCon but let’s be honest here, it’s more YouTubeCon than anything else. Whether intentional or not you won’t find Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Twitter or anyone else rumored to be the next big thing in video on the sponsor list and the title sponsor is of course YouTube. At its roots VidCon is a classic YouTube gathering, rooted in the coming together of creators to prove that they do exist outside of YouTube. After this year, VidCon’s roots may be in trouble.
One of the most important pieces of a YouTube gathering is that it must be accessible. VidCon has done about as much as they can to make the event affordable. There are early bird rates that allow somebody to get a community pass for $100, discounts available on airlines and hotels, and even an opportunity to volunteer to cut into those costs. The only problem is that VidCon may be a bit too accessible for fans and the average “middle class” YouTuber is suffering for it. Guests like Smosh, Toby Turner, and iJustine will always have easy access to the event, but what about YouTubers who have yet to earn a living making videos? The current format is heavily favoring the casual fan and the mega star and leaving the average creator on the outs.
I spent my time this year at VidCon exclusively on the Industry Track for the first two days and I thought it was just about flawless. Aside from the keynote speeches there were no lines, great networking, wonderful lessons about how to create better content and it really felt like a first class experience. But the Industry Track is $450 at its cheapest and also comes with added travel. Attendees on the Industry Track often arrive Wednesday, adding at least 2 extra nights to their VidCon trip. Most creators I talked to this year simply couldn’t justify the cost to upgrade their passes and lamented their inability to afford it, many going so far as to say this was their last time attending VidCon. The thing missing for the average creator is value for their time and money. In my three years at VidCon I’ve observed three main things that justify making the trip: networking, learning and seeing familiar faces.
Community panels were packed, lines were long and waiting even 30 minutes for a panel didn’t guarantee a seat. That might not seem like a lot, but the way the schedule is structured one could easily miss a panel to assure a seat in the next one. As far as networking goes, I found next to none on the community track unless I wanted to chat with 15 year old girls just trying to get a glimpse of Troye Sivan. The kicker this year was the closing of the Hilton Lobby, which had been the mainstay for networking and meeting up with old and new friends. Due to the absolute craziness of some fans, the Hilton Lobby was closed this year to anyone without a Hilton room key. With the dental conference pushing most attendees out of the Hilton, this combination of factors made it difficult to network, learn, or get in touch with friends outside of the Industry Track.
The simplest solution is to pay for the Industry Track. It may be a tough pill to swallow but the experience was even more worth it this year, as it helped put serious creators and industry leaders in a room together, outside of the commotion of the community track. Perhaps another track could be created, specifically for creators who aren’t yet making big money for their work. As the gathering and the casual fan sector continue to grow, there is really no way I would go without being on the Industry Track. The community track is simply getting too clogged with fans to get the same value out of it you used to. But if the average creator can’t stomach the extra cost, VidCon is heading down a path where they will unintentionally alienate the creators that this conference is based upon.