October 21, 2021 was supposed to be a triumphant day for VidCon. After the 2020 edition of the annual online video convention was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, its organizers hoped that a later-than-usual start date would give VidCon 2021 a chance for success.
Wendi Ekblade, VidCon’s Director of Security and Operations, told Tubefilter that workers in the world of events learn to “roll with the punches,” but the loss of VidCon 2021 was tough to bear. “Our team is so dedicated and we work so hard on the tiniest of details required to put on a meaningful event,” Ekblade said, “so it felt like our purpose was taken away.”
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Wait ’til next year
As soon as VidCon 2021 was nixed, its organizers set the dates for their big return (again). Ekblade said she and her colleagues “quickly repurposed our energy to ensure the 2022 event was as great as it could be.” We’re now closing in on June 22, 2022, and unless a massive COVID spike occurs in the next week (knock on wood), the biggest and brightest stars in the online video world will flock to Anaheim to meet their fans, connect with one another, and learn new strategies for optimizing their channels.
As we’ve learned over the last two years, that “unless” is a big one. COVID-19 can strike unexpectedly and spread like wildfire. It could be especially contagious at an event like VidCon, where group hugs, large crowds, and loud, open-mouthed screams of delight are common sights and sounds. If planned carelessly, the first in-person VidCon in three years could go horribly wrong.
Luckily, the VidCon organizers are determined to make the Anaheim Convention Center a safe space for all attendees. They have instituted the usual combination of COVID-19 precautions. All guests over the age of five will be required to present either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours. Masks will be “optional but recommended,” and the VidCon website notes that health and safety guidelines “may continue to evolve as the situation develops.”
The COVID-19 precautions at VidCon aren’t limited to the front gate. Ekblade told Tubefilter that the Security and Operations team will be “in constant contact with The California Department of Public Health and the city of Anaheim to ensure our protocols are in line with what is recommended by the professionals.” There are also two other entities that are ensuring VidCon 2022 is as safe as possible. One is the Health and Safety team at Paramount; the major corporation took charge of VidCon after its precursor Viacom acquired the event series back in 2018. The other is the Anaheim Convention Center itself. Ekblade noted that the facility has received STAR accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council.
“VidCon utilizes the entire ACC campus, so there is a ton of room to move around and plenty of outdoor space to enjoy,” Ekblade said. “VidCon will also have several nurses stations available to anyone who may be feeling under the weather and processes in place to allow folks to isolate if need be.”
“Our goal is to make everyone feel at ease”
That quote, from Ekblade, concerns the 2022 edition of VidCon, but it could just as easily be applied to the event’s previous iterations. VidCon is well-equipped to protect creators and fans, since it had protocols in place to keep them sequestered from one another even before the COVID-19 era. Hotels near the Anaheim Convention Center have typically functioned as “safe havens” for creators, where they can relax and get away from the hustle and bustle.
In 2022, those safe havens will double as extra space, so that popular attendees can avoid crowds if need be. Each creator will also receive their own “survival kit,” which will “include the usual suspects in regards to COVID-19,” Ekblade said.
To make sure creators are comfortable, VidCon’s organizers are working with its high-profile attendees to make sure they have the experience that feels safe to them. Anyone who isn’t comfortable hosting a meet-and-greet will be able to limit their VidCon presence to panels and stage appearances. Even the meet-and-greets themselves will be customized so that each creator has the level of fan interaction they want. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback thus far because we’ve given [creators] a say in how they experience VidCon this year,” Ekblade told Tubefilter.
The creator-friendly procedures VidCon was built on will help it take on COVID-19, and even the space itself will play a role in disease control. The outdoor spaces surrounding the Anaheim Convention Center will be busier than ever, with brand partners planning “very cool activations” to take advantage of open-air areas. And inside the facility, the VidCon team has “created more space between Expo Hall activations, removed some seating from the content spaces, and have expanded our standing room options for folks who feel like they need a little more distance,” according to Ekblade.
“We will forever be affected by this in some way”
Though we’ve missed out on two consecutive VidCons, there’s a silver lining to all of this: The event’s digital presence has grown by leaps and bounds.
When the 2020 edition of the event was canceled, its organizers got to work on VidCon Now, which provided virtual sessions with the stars who were supposed to attend the in-person event. Some VidCon Now videos, like the one featuring the Roblox collective known as The Krew, ultimately pulled in more than 3.2 million views on the VidCon YouTube channel.
Like so many people, Ekblade and her colleagues were forced to “think outside the box” after COVID-19 derailed their intended plans. The rise of virtual meet-and-greets, networking events, and panels has fundamentally changed the structure of VidCon, even as the convention returns to its typical in-person structure. A YouTube live stream will offer a range of coverage for fans who can’t make it to Anaheim, and Ekblade has learned that those remote attendees can still experience the “firsts” that make VidCon special. “We’ll continue to keep that magic at the core of how we produce all of our events moving forward,” she said.
It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that the lessons learned from consecutive scuttled VidCons will make the 2022 edition better than any before it. “We will forever be affected by this in some way,” Ekblade said. “As the times change, so will we. We certainly want to continue to create an event that is meaningful and magical and will take the cues from within the industry. We will also continue to challenge ourselves with meaningful, diverse and fun digital content.”
So if you’re planning on attending VidCon this year, you’ll hopefully come away feeling safe and satisfied. “We provide a space for such a variety of people to come together and share and learn and create lifetime memories,” Ekblade said. “Looking forward to the return of real life in 2022!”