This past weekend marked the first annual VidCon. Created by nerdfighters (and as of Saturday, owners of one of the top 100 YouTube channels) Hank and John Green, the weekend was designed to celebrate the awesome that is web video. According to the VidCon program: “We wanted to make VidCon reflect the astonishing diversity of online video itself: While the prevailing opinion within old media is that online video is primarily about sneezing pandas, we know that the true story is much more complicated.” It’s a story that includes men in bikinis who can be the center of a spectacular musical number, a room full of people participating in a live video experiment, a 14 year-old vlogger with the fanciest camera in the room, and a day of programming created entirely through user-generated content. It would be impossible to cover everything that happened over the three-day event, so I decided to narrow it down to my 10 favorite things about the weekend (in no particular order).
The Century Plaza Hotel: Opened in 1966 after 20th Century Fox sold off one of its backlots for real-estate, the fact that this location used to be part of old media made it symbolically a great place to hold a convention celebrating New Media. Its layout comfortably held the 1400 plus attendees of the conference without ever feeling overcrowded and its ballroom sufficiently handled the technical aspects of having live performances mixed with Q and A sessions. It was unfortunate that there was not wireless readily available, but as Hank Green explained in the program, “It turns out that creating a wireless Internet network that can support 1000 simultaneous users is more difficult and dangerous than creating an army of soulless homuculi. The price we were quoted for this was literally more than the budget for the entire rest of the conference.”
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YouTube’s grant program / 4k announcement: Tubefilter already covered YouTube’s Grant Program announcement but also announced was the news that YouTube will now support videos shot in 4K (a reference resolution of 4096 x 3072). Now, this may not mean much to the average YouTube vlogger as uploading that size content from a normal internet connection would take days and days, but it does seem to signal a wish for YouTube to embrace larger production companies with the technological abilities to produce content of that resolution. The hope would be that this content could exist in harmony with the original open spirit of YouTube.
The Ballpit: What other conference has had a ballpit? Enough said.
The Station / John Green dressed like a turkey: During The Station’s live performance of the Justin Bieber parody Eeenie Meenie Bikini, John Green danced on the stage and through the audience in a turkey costume. He later explained that as he was backstage, the members of The Station asked him to done the getup. When asked what he was supposed to do, he was directed to another backup dancer dressed as Batman who was instructed, “you need to take the lead on this one Batman.” The point of this story was highlighted in the Q and A section of The Station’s portion of the show when Lisa Nova explained that collaboration is what helps keep YouTube alive and that having a group of creators collaborating as The Station does helps elevate the content, as well as serve as a support system for those involved. Though The Station’s roster rotates from time to time, the core network still remains strong. Other news coming out from The Station Q and A is that we haven’t seen the last of Daxflame and Hot Girlz has a second season in the works.
DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome): As long as there has been YouTube, there have been independent artists using YouTube to help find an audience for their music. From Tay Zonday to Julia Nunes to Mystery Guitar Man, YouTube music artists have pushed the envelope of what “popular music” means. Hank Green brought together many of these talented yet unrepresented artists to form DFTBA Records, which presence represented a cornerstone of the event, including Hank Green performing an acoustic version of the song of the same title and explaining the origins of the acronym (or as he explained, it is actually an initialism as the letters don’t actually spell out anything).
Getting recognized: I just can’t help but toot my own horn here just a little as even I got recognized at VidCon. At registration, one of the fabulous volunteers instantly greeted me with my name and I was taken aback. When asked if he recognized me as a member of the press, he said that indeed, that wasn’t how he knew me. That instead, it was for a series of video blogs I did back in 2006 when I was deeply involved in the lonelygirl15 community. They were a series of parody videos called LonelyJew15 where I played Anne Frank. Once he told me his YouTube name, I instantly knew who he was and was thrilled to finally meet in person. Only at VidCon…
Brittani Louise Taylor and Shane Dawson: Brittani Louise Taylor is known as a “newcomer” to the vlogging scene, even though she has been vlogging for quite some time yet only launched into the top 100 YouTube users recently. She was there to talk about how it’s still possible to “make it” on YouTube but chose instead to reiterate that making it was never her intention and that it takes keeping a positive attitude and being tireless in your efforts that will lead to success. She then brought out her fellow vlogger and often collaborator Shane Dawson to throngs of screaming fans (mostly young and female). The two have an unmistakable but completely asexual chemistry, with Dawson, a self-proclaimed “cussing Christian”, throwing out raunchy terms just to see if he could phase Taylor, to which her cheerful reply was, “I’m desensitized to it by now.” Dawson’s continued popularity was evidenced by the fact that his announcement that he’d be doing a meet-and-greet directly after his Q and A practically cleared the ballroom.
The Elevator announcement: Woody Tondorf, creator of the insanely popular Elevator took the Ballroom stage Saturday afternoon to make an announcement about the series, which has been on hiatus for months. The video he presented featured Harold the Janitor equipping himself with an impressive arsenal. Tondorf then explained that the final (“unless there is a miracle”) season of Elevator will begin on October 7th and that some of the episodes will be in 3D. They will be using the same technology as was recently used to bring 3D to Safety Geeks: SVI.
The Dancing Tongue: One of the more unique sponsors of VidCon was the Orabrush Tongue Cleaner. Though WiFi wasn’t available in the convention itself, Orabrush did pay for the WiFi in every room where a VidCon registrant was staying (normally $18 per day) and helped design the totebags for the event, each of which of course included an Orabrush Tongue Cleaner. But even more delightful than all that: they actually had a full-grown man in a tongue costume who would dance outside the company’s booth in the Vendors and Exhibitors hall.
Dan Brown / Revision 3 announcement: Dan Brown is a 20 year-old from Lincoln, Nebraska that has amassed over 50 million views on YouTube with videos that include solving a Rubik’s cube while jumping on a pogo stick and creating one of YouTube’s most complicated collaboration Who Wants To Be a YouTube Billionare. Brown was inspired by a UK soccer team that let their fans make all their decisions for a season, including which players to trade and even which players should be in each game. The team ended up seeing an increase in success because of it. Brown announced that starting on August 2nd, he will take this formula and apply it to his own life for a full year. He calls it Dan 3.0 and has teamed up with Revision3 for the project. The show is designed around what they are calling “The Decision Engine”, a Digg-style decision platform that will allow most liked ideas to work their way to the top. Brown will take place in daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals and will also allow the audience to make technical decisions about how the show works as well as how the site the show live on functions. As Brown said, the show “will live and breath and evolve as the public wants it.”
After three days of meet-ups, musical performances, Q and A sessions, and an entire day of user-generated content, the general vibe of the conference was one of excitement and hope for the future. Although there was some discussion among attendees on whether the conference should move away from a place for fans of web video and those who work in it to simply meet one another and become more of a serious place for discussion of the future of the medium of video content, no one could deny that the maiden voyage was a success. And according to a FAQ included in the program for the event written by Hank Green: “Despite the fact that I believe VidCon has sucked away several years of my life, much like Count Rugen’s machine in the Pit of Despair, it has also been one of the most wonderful things I have ever done. I love online video so much, I think I might actually love it enough to it this again.”