Top Takeaways From VidCon 2015

Rob Davis and I just returned from Anaheim, California, where we attended VidCon, the premiere online video conference bringing together 300 of the most influential YouTube creators, 20,000 super fans and a handful of the most innovative brands and agencies. It was an enlightening few days, filled with fun and insights. Here are my top takeaways:

1) There is a unique and intimate bond between creator and super-fan.

Just like any big fan event, all the biggest celebrities were there. In the world of online video, that means Jenna Marbles, Joey Graceffa, Hannah Hart, Tyler Oakley, Rhett & Link, the Fine Brothers, Smosh, and many, many more. There were several occasions where I was almost run over by screaming fans trying to catch up to their favorite celebrities. The level of fandom was electric, but not surprising.


What was surprising, however, was the way these YouTube celebrities interact with their fans. There were no big press events or junkets, no entourages, managers or security trying to block off the celebrity from the “common” people. Most of the YouTube celebrities were walking around and interacting directly with their fans, taking selfies and happily chatting. There was an unspoken pact between celebrity and fan – that the celebrities were normal people just like their fans, and that their fans had everything to do with them becoming celebrities. These celebrities were relatable and real. This point was illustrated by a stat I heard while there – YouTube stars are seen as 90% more authentic and 17x more engaging compared to mainstream celebrities (source: Tubular Labs, 2015).

2) Creators are brands too.

There was a lot of talk about how brands can, have and should be working with video celebrity creators. But the point was aptly made that these creators are brands themselves. They know who they are and what they stand for. If brands (i.e. our clients) are looking to partner with a creator, they should find someone who is sincerely excited about the product or brand, actually uses it in their daily life and genuinely loves it.

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As already noted in the point above, these creators will never do anything to jeopardize their relationship with their fans, so brands can expect creators to walk away from a deal if it’s not something the creator believes in. Additionally, the creators know what works with their audience, so brands should avoid going into the partnership with pre-set ideas and lack of flexibility. This kind of partnership needs to be a true collaboration between two “brands” who both to the table with ideas.

3) YouTube is still the biggest fish in the online video ocean, but there is plenty of fish food to go around.

Most of these video celebrities got their start on YouTube, so it’s no wonder as to why they are loyal to the platform. And while YouTube did have a significant presence at the convention, there was also a wide array of online video companies offering up-and-coming creators advice and options for making money in the future. The MCNs (multi-channel networks) were very present – everyone from Full Screen to Machinima to Victorious. So were the media companies – Discovery, Yahoo, AwesomenessTV, etc. Talent agencies, like UTA, and ad products, like Zephr, were there too.

Video and social platforms were making a big push to get creators to go beyond YouTube and onto their platforms too – including the likes of Twitter and Vimeo. Suspiciously absent, however, was Facebook, which was surprising given their big focus on video this year, but perhaps not surprising given the conference’s perceived association with YouTube overall (even if it’s not an official association). Another potential reason for its absence could be its lack of a strategy pertaining to original creators. Still in its infant stages of video, Facebook doesn’t have an existing relationship with original video creators, and the creators are largely frustrated that their audiences can’t organically find their videos on Facebook no matter how many fans “like” them. I would not be surprised at all if Facebook announces something shortly to address this issue and strengthen relationships with creators to entice them onto its platform.

4) Ogilvy is at the forefront of the video revolution and creator/agency relationship.

It is still very early days for brands and agencies at VidCon. The conference itself made big strides this year by offering up separate “tracks” for the first time to community, creators and industry folks. However, the industry track definitely felt a bit “light”. Most of the brands that were there were brought in by YouTube and I didn’t see any other agencies there besides us. It was a great opportunity to show off our innovative Advanced Video Practice offering and thought leadership in the online video space as we mingled with several of the brands that were present and our own Rob Davis spoke on one of the panels and was interviewed for a podcast. As one industry executive said, “Everything I’ve learned about video, I’ve learned from Rob Davis.” And I concurred.

5) Top insights from the experts reinforced our own POVs.

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A lot of the industry veterans and innovators dispensed some excellent insights and advice. A lot of it aligned with our own experience and POVs, so it reiterated the point above. The key points were:

  • Unbundling will only continue to become more common, forcing media companies and advertisers to develop new pay models for creators
  • When determining what to make content about, look for existing trends in conversations and search to identify relevant topics that connect to your brand
  • YouTube continues to make several updates to its platform and app to make it more mobile-friendly. Expect more to come
  • YouTube (and Google) regards watch time as a key indicator of engagement success. Watch time is determined both by individual video and total session time, so both video content and user experience are important factors in your SEO strategy

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