VidCon Preview: Why Viacom Won't "Take the Soul" out of the Annual Online Video Event

VidCon 2017 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Andrew Kemmis

Now in its ninth year, the annual confab for industry executives, digital creators and fans is growing up under the leadership of new owner Viacom, but VidCon CEO Jim Louderback says the event is "not going to be different for the attendees."

VidCon CEO Jim Louderback has been trying to get an MTV booth on the show floor of the annual online-video confab for several years. This year, he finally landed the teen network. 

It helped that MTV's owner, Viacom, acquired VidCon in February as part of a larger push into digital video. Now there will be a Cribs activation during the Anaheim event, which runs June 20-23. 

Although there's a good chance MTV would have been at VidCon regardless of the Viacom acquisition, Louderback acknowledges the opportunities to align the event, which draws some 30,000 people a year, with the media conglomerate's brands. "Yes, Viacom bought us, but now they're spending more money with us," he says with a laugh. Other brands, including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET, also will be on hand for meetings with creators, part of a service that VidCon offers to a number of sponsors that helps them connect with rising online talent. 

Outside of the heightened presence of Viacom brands, executives involved in both companies say that's where the conglomerate's influence over the 9-year-old event will end. Despite the acquisition, VidCon, which has made a name for itself as an annual meeting place for creators, fans and industry executives, is retaining its roots. "It's not going to be different for the attendees," notes Louderback. Viacom Digital Studios president Kelly Day adds, "There should never be a day that someone walks into VidCon and thinks, 'This is Viacom's VidCon.' That would take the soul out of it."

The event, co-founded by brothers John and Hank Green, began as a small affair in Century City designed to encourage YouTubers from across the country to meet up and share their experiences as well as interact with fans. In the years since, VidCon has grown significantly, taking over most of the area around the Anaheim Convention Center. As the online-video industry has matured, so has the confab. This year, platforms as diverse as Snapchat, YouTube and Twitch will be at the event to connect with creators. 

This year, Louderback expects VidCon will be especially helpful for talent wading through questions around monetization on YouTube and promotion of their videos and posts on Facebook's news feed. "We are, in many ways, that neutral party. We're Switzerland," says the CEO. "We're a safe space to come in and have those conversations." He notes that the event has also added more education to its programming lineup so that creators and industry executives can come and learn about "not just today but what's going to happen tomorrow." 

He also notes that diversity and representation have become a focal point for the event: This year, 50 percent of the featured creators are women and 40 percent are multicultural. "We've always been a safe space and a diverse space, but we're being a little bit more deliberate about it now," he explains. 

VidCon has become a key piece of Viacom's plan for its digital studios division, which Day was hired to run late last year. The company also acquired digital marketing agency WhoSay and unveiled a slate of online original series at its first-ever NewFronts presentation. "A big priority for Viacom is obviously next-generation platforms — also diversifying our revenues and thinking about other ways to connect with consumers and audiences," notes Day. "As we looked at VidCon, there was such a great opportunity to continue to grow and expand it." 

Since the February acquisition, the event has announced plans for its first London iteration, which follows expansion to Australia and the Netherlands last year. Day explains that there have been other ways that Viacom has lent support, including through brand relationships (UTA continues to handle all brand sponsorship sales for the event) and in the use of RIFD bands to better identify attendees. "I believe that we've done a very good job this year of being a phenomenal behind-the-scenes partner with VidCon in terms of helping with everything from ticket sales to infrastructure around the event," she notes. "Hopefully, we'll be able to help more and more with ad sales and bringing sponsors and partners into [Vidcon]."

Here is a look at some of the industry highlights from VidCon 2018, which runs June 20-23 in Anaheim: 
Fireside Chat With David Alpert and Ivana Kirkbride
The Skybound Entertainment CEO and executive producer of The Walking Dead will sit down with Oath executive Kirkbride on June 21 to talk about the merging of digital and traditional programming and how legacy media companies are embracing online creators. 
The Future of Video on Facebook and Instagram
In a VidCon first, executives from Facebook (VP product Fidji Simo) and Instagram (co-founder Mike Krieger) will sit down together June 21 to talk about how the two platforms view video. They are expected to preview new features.
A Conversation With MACRO's Charles D. King
The former WME agent will detail his decision to leave the agency and start a multiplatform, multicultural media company. He will be joined June 21 by YouTube director of content partnerships Malik Ducard. 
How to Grow Your Business on Pinterest
The photo-sharing social network is coming to VidCon this year to showcase its new creator-focused features and discuss its growing investment in video. Head of content and creator products David Temple will stick around at the end of the June 22 talk for a Q&A.  
Twitter and Video: A Platform Update
Actor Josh Peck and Beautycon CEO Moj Mahdara will join Twitter executives for a June 22 discussion about how video has become central to the social network's business.