It’s a few days before the tenth annual VidCon‘s July 10 kickoff in Orange County, and Hank Green, cofounder of the massive event, has a lot on his plate. Besides media interviews (I’m his fourth call of the day), he’s working with his brother John, the other cofounder, on some last-minute announcements. And then there’s the issue of the convention’s merchandise outgrowing its warehouse space.
It’s no surprise that VidCon—for YouTube creators and their fans—has experienced some growing pains. During its inaugural year in 2010, the event brought 1,400 people to the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. This year, tens of thousands are expected to flood the Anaheim Convention Center.
“We’ve been doing this for long enough that it’s kind of like that was inevitable … but there have certainly been moments when we grew a little bit faster than maybe we were ready for,” Hank Green says.
With growth comes more than just merchandising problems. In 2018, Fortune 500 media company Viacom bought VidCon, which many found ironic considering Viacom sued YouTube in 2010 over copyright infringement. Despite the purchase, Green insists not much has changed.
“Everyone in this office has to use Outlook instead of Gmail now,” he jokes. But, ultimately, Viacom is pretty “hands off.”
“Viacom didn’t buy VidCon because they wanted to make a bunch of money,” he says. “That’s not a big important part of their balance sheet. They want to work with us because it’s a way to understand the way the media has changed and is changing. It is very important that they not mess with it too much because they want this to be a good thing for their company.”
At its core, VidCon remains an event for YouTube creators to learn more about the platform and connect with one another. In the past ten years, however, it’s grown into a convention for the fans.
“That first year we got a lot of emails from people asking if they could attend even if they didn’t make videos,” Green says. But now he sees more of an overlap, because most fans typically create videos in some capacity.
“All of VidCon was kind of a creator thing, and then as it has expanded, it was more the fan thing that grew up around that,” Green says.
Whether it’s something a creator or fan does, VidCon usually ends up in the news in the days after the event. Last year YouTuber Tana Mongeau lashed out because she wasn’t invited as a featured creator (featured creators have special access at VidCon, including security). In response, she hosted TanaCon across the street at the Anaheim Marriott Suites. When more people showed up than the Marriott could handle, fans began complaining about a lack of food and water and shouting “refund.” Green said afterward that he “100 percent screwed up” by not inviting Mongeau as a featured creator. This year she is one, but Green says choosing whom the featured creators will be is the hardest part of the job—so hard he recused himself from making those decisions.
“A thing that has always bothered me about VidCon is being a featured creator has conferred this level of status and not having that status hurts,” he says. “And I have a lot of personal friends who I have been friends with for over a decade who didn’t get invited to VidCon this year who, by the grace of their souls, did not give me a hard time about it, but, yeah, it’s hard.”
Egos and hurt feelings are just a part of VidCon, and Green says he and his team do keep in mind everyone’s different social dynamics when planning the event.
“There are some people that we’re aware of that if they have a contentious relationship, we don’t put them on the same panel,” he says. “Like if they had a recent breakup, we don’t put them on the same panel. We stay aware of stuff like that. But, ultimately, even people who are on-screen and in each other’s faces, ultimately, they can get along if they need to get along and maybe to some extent the drama is not all 100 percent real.”
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