By Curtis Michael Davey, Director of Talent Partnerships at SYLO
If ever there was a time and place to measure and map the digital media landscape, and all that it touches, it is at VidCon. I’ve heard the influencer marketing space described as “the wild west” on more than one occasion: a rapidly growing community, on the edges of established industries, where the rules are still being written and pioneers can stake their claim. An apt description indeed, but I prefer the analogy of a petri dish, where viral sensations and a plethora of ideas either multiply and thrive or wither and die. And if this crossroads of industries is a giant petri dish, then VidCon is the microscope through which we can examine the whole of the industry more closely, and ultimately understand it all.
Over the course of one increasingly hectic weekend, and at an increasing scale across Anaheim, attendees converge to revel in and shape the future of the industries to which they are beholden – media, retail, technology and, of course, advertising. In my fourth year of attendance out of eight in the history of VidCon – the largest and best established event of its kind in the world – I’ve witnessed the explosive growth, and the seismic shifts of the influencer marketing landscape.
2013 was my first year at the conference, as well as VidCon’s first year in the Anaheim Convention Centre (ACC). The size of the venue made all of the brand activations and talent programming seem minuscule in comparison – like a hermit crab making his home in a shell much larger than necessary. But the following year, VidCon had grown exponentially. Not just in size – taking up a much larger section of the ACC and the surrounding hotels – but also in scope and scale. This was the year that proved to everyone, inside and out of the industry, that the social stars of digital media were here to stay – Variety Magazine’s August cover story proved that.
On the conference floor, massive booths from every section of the industry crowded together like casinos on the Vegas strip, clamoring for the attention of the thousands of fans who made the pilgrimage there from all corners of the globe. Mirroring the moves they made in the industry, competing businesses – from the MCNs to the apps to the publishers and merchandise companies – all engaged in a constant game of one-upmanship with the announcements they made in VidCon programming and the talent that they had at their booths. Despite requests from VidCon organizers to maintain reasonable sound levels, everyone turned up the volume of their speaker boxes that year. It was about making noise, and getting noticed, just like it was in the industry that year with the headlines of new acquisitions, distribution deals, and original content production deals, both on YouTube and off. Because, let’s not forget, Vine was the hottest thing on the block that year.
The talent, on the other hand, didn’t need to make noise. The fans did that for them any time they caught sight of a creator, known or unknown. Screaming hordes of fans rushed in every direction, caught up in the frenzy without even knowing who they’re chasing, making navigation around the convention or having a business meeting in a hotel lobby bar very difficult. And when not rushing from booth to booth or chasing a talent, you would find these fans clustered in sprawling groups around the area, watching videos or checking Twitter for any sign of where to go to catch a star on their electric hoverboards – like the recent Pokémon Go craze but IRL. The fervor of these fans gave every person there reason to pause and reflect on this new reality that we all helped to create.
Fast forward a few years to 2017: VidCon is now hosting three conferences on three different continents, with the Anaheim event still the biggest and most important of them all (even with a half-dozen other upstart events trying to steal its thunder). VidCon and the whole of the digital media industry is now so mainstream and so important to so many businesses, that companies had to decide whether to send their executives to Cannes Lions (happening the same week) or to VidCon. Most companies, even the most established media entities like Variety Magazine, sent them to both.
With the maturity of an industry comes a sagely wisdom, and VidCon certainly reflected that. No longer were the talent seen crossing the hotel lobbies; instead they were shuttled to private entrances from a nearby hotel and discouraged from mingling with their fans after a panel or meet-and-greet. Business executives, from an growing number of companies and in ever-growing numbers still took meetings, but far fewer in hotel lobbies and much more in the industry lounges on the 3rd floor of the ACC where the amenities continue to improve. The exclusive evening parties are still taking place and are still lavish as ever, but this year they’re much farther afield from the ACC where they used to fight for conference room and pool-side space.
All of these changes indicate a strong understanding of the progress made thus far and a desire to protect it so that it may continue to thrive. Something that I, and the whole SYLO team, continue to advocate in influencer marketing. By taking stock of where we’ve been, and measuring the initiatives and efforts that have gotten us to where we are as an industry, only then can we understand where to go next and how best to protect all of our accomplishments to date.
What’s been your experience with VidCon?