Vidcon 2013: What this year says about what’s happening on YouTube

Vidcon, the annual celebration of online video creators founded by Hank and John Green, wrapped up its fourth year this past weekend. Some big announcements were made, some good times were had — and more importantly, new insight into the web video world was gained.

See, this of course isn’t the point of the event, but every year I like to use Vidcon as a metric for understanding the current state of the industry. And this year, there were a ton of indications as to how things are maturing — and some trends we may come to see as an even bigger factor in the months to come.

Bigger sponsors and bigger ad buys

YouTube, (s GOOG) as per usual, was Vidcon’s highest-level sponsor and had a major presence at the conference. But Kia and Taco Bell were also a big part of the show floor as well as conference programming.

Meanwhile, the biggest presence on the floor by far was Discovery Channel’s giant mechanical shark (nicknamed “Sharkzilla”), which was on site to promote the launch of Shark Week, as well as remind people of Discovery’s acquisition of Revision3, and subsequent blending of the two brands.

You could get your photo taken in the jaws of Sharkzilla. I tragically missed the opportunity.
You could get your photo taken in the jaws of Sharkzilla. I tragically missed the opportunity.

Building better businesses

Vidcon 2010, I remember, included some news and some professional development, but by and large was largely focused on YouTubers and live audience interaction.

This year, though, the Vidcon schedule was packed with panels devoted to the business of the business — everything from how to read a contract to music rights issues to the basic facts of what it means to be a creator working online. And those panels were spread between both the community and industry tracks, meaning that even if you were just a casual YouTube user, you could get updates and advice on how to conduct yourself online.

YouTube especially engaged with this, making some big announcements, including live streaming for almost everyone,  meant to support creators and also working to address recent controversies about its business practices.

I sat in on one session, “How Much Am I Worth: Understanding YouTube Monetization and Determining Your Channel’s Value,” which was presented by YouTube partner product manager Andy Stack.

And thanks to Stack, I got a thorough education on what YouTube creators need to know about specific advertising terms like CPM and RPM, and what creators should be paying attention to in their interactions with the platform and advertisers.

It was sage, real-world, in-depth advice — and a clear sign that YouTube is attempting greater transparency on this issue.

Territories are emerging

Last year, YouTube talent companies like Fullscreen and Maker Studios were definitely a presence, but in the ensuing twelve months these companies have grown much larger and more established. It’s early to say, but there’s a new air of competition emerging. A year from now, we may see some real fences spring up.

Fans still matter

The halls still echoed with the screams of excited fans. But while in the first year, attendees would form mobs around their favorite YouTubers, this year you were far more likely to see quiet, orderly lines of fans emerge spontaneously on the expo line hall.

They would wait patiently for the opportunity to get a little real face time with their online favorites; unlike previous years, they knew how to behave when confronted with their idols.

And you’d come across that sort of thing every day — on Saturday, for example, I wandered outside to see a crowd of one hundred or so, gathered around to listen to performer Emily Clementine play acoustic guitar live. You could barely hear her from the back of the crowd, but it was a beautiful moment.

emily clementine performance

Fan gatherings, planned and spontaneous alike, still set the tone for the weekend. And for a community that is so driven by that interaction, between creator and viewer, that might be the most important thing of all.