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.

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Is VidCon Pushing Away Creators in Favor of the Teen Fans? vidcon 2014 panel 606x341

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.

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  • Michael Vera

    One key to getting the most of vidcon is planning who you'll meet. I have friends who visited Vidcon for the first time, most of whom visited California for the first time, but they networked like crazy and got a lot out of the event.

    I think when you plan who you will work with and meet with, Vidcon becomes less of a sea of random people.

    • Andy Smith

      I absolutely agree. I plan out my trip every year, it really helps get the most out of it!

  • hank_green

    Really great insight, Andy. We've always pushed to have helpful discussions for creators during community content, but as online video has gotten more mainstream, that has become difficult to do. We're brainstorming ways to keep those discussions open to creators in 2015 and beyond. Keep an ear open.

    • Andy Smith

      Glad you were able to give this a read Hank. VidCon really is far and away the best thing going and I'll be looking forward to hearing about those changes!

    • Michael Vera

      wow really cool to see hank comment on this lol

  • Josh Rimer

    Totally agree with all this Andy! I've been to every VidCon from the beginning, but skipped this year because already at last year's I was getting frustrated with the extreme growth in fangirls compared to creators. I decided that the flights, hotel, and industry pass were just too much for me right now and I knew that without that pass I'd just be stuck in crowds of thousands of screaming fans. Playlist Live was only good for me because I had a VIP pass - otherwise I wouldn't have enjoyed it either, for the same reason. I really do think there needs to be a conference that is restricted to creators - one where you have to qualify to attend (ie. have a channel with a minimum amount of content and subscribers). That would bring back the vibe that the first VidCon had, where I could easily just walk up to top YouTubers in the hotel lobby and chat with them because it was much smaller and the ratio of content creators to fans was much more manageable.

    • Andy Smith

      I definitely missed seeing you around this year! The big hurdle is that it's really hard to quantify what is a serious creator when everyone is creating now, there is such a blurred line. We're working on a Midwest gathering at Cedar Point every year that is gathering some steam that is a throwback to the old gatherings from "back in the day".

  • Jack Decker

    I think it would be great that there is a convention for mainly YouTube fans and maybe that is just what VidCon should reorganize itself as. Nothing wrong with that. That's a sign of an entertainment sector maturing. The Green brothers probably should even run six of them a year in the US. One in each of the six US regions and one every other month. Maybe also at least one over in Europe, another in Japan, and another in Australia. But if they go that route, they need to drop the facade that they're a convention for online video creators. That and PAY the YouTube creators to attend as featured guests since they're the draw.

    And speaking of online video creators, what is a good convention (or conference or workshop) for YouTube creators to go to these days? One where fans are not allowed in. Where the purpose is to improve as an online video creator and network with other online video creators. Where it isn't run by YouTube.

    • Andy Smith

      Comparatively speaking, I'd say Playlist Live is fan centric. I went to both this year and VidCon is still far and away better at being a professional conference when you are on the industry track. Given the relative wealth of YouTubers, having more convenient locations would be awesome, but I doubt more than maybe 1 more will happen while the current staff is in charge. Not because they aren't awesome, but because they have a desire to do things besides just run conferences all the time. And from what I've heard, they do pay larger creators to attend with, at the very least, comped tickets and accommodations.

      I'd say the Reel Summit would be a great place to learn for creators (shameless plug) but the cost isn't exactly up the alley of most creators either.

    • Carla Marshall

      There's always :-)

  • Sidney

    I think you hit the nail on the head there Andy. :/

    • Andy Smith

      Thanks for reading!