Last week I went to VidCon, a three day conference in Anaheim, California.
For those who don't know, you could say VidCon is the largest "online video" conference out there. Some might just call it the YouTube conference because this is what it's mostly about.
This year more than 30.000 fans, creators and industry leaders got together to celebrate themselves and the future of online video. As you can imagine, a conference at this scale is just crazy.
VidCon is a different kind of conference. Nothing even close to the design/tech conferences I've ever experienced. Maybe that's because I'm a designer and not a YouTuber, but let's start at the beginning:
There are only three reasons why you would buy a ticket for VidCon:
a.) You're a YouTuber
b.) You're a teenage fan girl/boy of a YouTuber
c.) You're me, a designer just being curious.
As for myself, I had no expectations but it turned out to be one of my favorite conferences this year. Here is what I learned.
1. I learned that video IS the Internet
The future of the Internet is video. Sure, websites will be still around, apps as well. They will serve specific utility use cases, but the majority of time on the Internet will be spend watching videos. Either for pure entertainment, education or in form of interactive videos.
I think the golden time of YouTube has just started.
YouTube currently reaches more 18-35 year olds than any other cable network. The biggest YouTubers such as pewdewpie with 45+ million subscribers have more views on their videos each month than all major cable networks combined. (of course you can't compare big TV shows with 10min YouTube videos, but just think of the reach these videos have without any traditional marketing campaigns)
Even looking at the Google Insights report from 2014, YouTube has an average of 17% more impact on purchase intent than traditional TV. YouTube not only keeps growing, but maturing as a platform for creators, viewers and advertisers.
Videos are often the type of content that go viral. More and more information that used to live static on the Internet is getting replaced by videos. This reaches from consuming news to watching cooking tutorials or how to fix something on my bar.
A couple years ago I would have searched Google for an answer on how to treat back pain, but today I just put in in YouTube because I prefer a video explanation.
The Internet IS video.
2. I learned that Designers should go to VidCon
This shouldn't be news to both of us, but creators are the main driving force behind the growth of YouTube, and they are "users" too. Surprisingly, I don't know any other designer or product person in my circles that went to VidCon.
For me, looking at how creators use the products we design is crucial for my daily work and becoming a better designer, or even developer for that matter.
While I don't work at YouTube, I found most of these learnings apply to any industry, especially those who design a product for both, creators & consumers.
3. I learned that the majority of VidCon are screaming teenage girls & boys.
And that's totally fine. Tens of thousands of fans want to meet their YouTube star, and VidCon is the place where it happens. However, VidCon is smart and sells specific "Creator tickets" which grant you access to the interesting industry panels. But if you want to be at the fan meet ups, you have to get a different ticket. That means you have to make a decision, do you value industry panels or do you want to meet your YouTube idol?
Professionals or those above 18 years old usually go with the creator ticket, and everyone below with the fan ticket (yes there are exceptions). So there is a natural split of people, and I would say that probably 20-30% are creators or industry people, and the rest are there just to have fun and meet a YouTube star. (20-30% creators sounds like a lot for VidCon, maybe someone can fact check me on that)
On top of it, when was the last time you had the chance to be around thousands of screaming teenagers who probably know a lot about the future of tech that you haven't even considered yet?
Just being around VidCon makes you feel this energy. Most of them are kids, but they are the future. Walking around VidCon gives you this feeling of traveling into the future for a brief moment. If you like what you see or not, it's the future generation showing you what they want and how they use the Internet today.
4. I learned that YouTubers have the same problems as we have, but...
On another panel, YouTubers openly discussed how to deal with hate speech & managing cyber bullying. There is nothing new about hate comments and spam, but usually there are big companies and experienced press teams on the receiving end.
But in case of YouTube, it's often just one person that struggles with these comments as much as you and I would do. VidCon covers all these topics we struggle with as creators and does so in a very authentic and intimate way. I was surprised how honest and open everyone talked about these issues. It's great to see famous YouTubers talk openly about these things, being vulnerable and approachable.
Ultimately I'm not the designer who works to improve YouTube, but all the lessons I learned can be applied to my other projects I'm working on.
At VidCon I learned how much I value each individual creator, regardless of their subscriber count. One of my favorite panels was called "Less Than Famous" where about seven YouTubers with an average of 400-1000 subscribers shared their learnings on being a "not so famous" YouTuber. A stark contrast compared to other panels where you see familiar faces and people who already made it big on YouTube.
While we often only know the big names, it's important to also look at the small creators and value their contribution to the platform. Right now about 89% of all creators have less than 5000 subscribers and only 2% are above 100.000 subscribers, who we consider already as celebrities. But still, these 89% of creators with less than 5k subs create a huge amount of videos on the platform. Maybe not the most viral videos, but videos that are being watched, indexed and searched for.
VidCon was a fantastic event, I met great people and learned so much more than any other traditional design conference. It makes me wonder, what else is out there I didn't know? What else can I learn to connect more dots?