Meetings Going Mainstream? Takeaways From Viacom’s VidCon Acquisition

The traditional media conglomerate is buying one of the most prominent annual events related to online video. Viacom’s purchase of VidCon highlights a growing desire for large companies to foster events with mainstream appeal.

An interesting story about the shifting nature of the media industry over the past decade can be found in Viacom’s acquisition of VidCon, a conference for vloggers and their numerous fans.

A decade ago, Viacom famously sued the website YouTube, out of concern that the company was stealing its content. (The lawsuit went on for seven years.) But in the midst of all those illegally uploaded episodes of The Daily Show, users big and small were building communities of fans, and eventually, those users became so valuable that Viacom felt the need to invest in their defining event.

But the purchase of the event, created by well-known YouTubers Hank and John Green, may also say something about the growing mainstream commercial interest in conferences. It’s something that can be seen in efforts by Condé Nast and other companies to build a presence at such events. (The publisher, which made waves with its Teen Vogue summit last year, recently launched an event app.)

Viacom Digital Studios President Kelly Day spoke to this mainstream interest in a news release.

“This team has built an unprecedented live experience that brings together the global online video community in celebration of the people and platforms shaping the future of content, and we’re excited to join forces as we look to expand our slate of original digital programming and partnerships,” she stated.

An Industry Event With Mainstream Appeal

As for VidCon, the event draws massive crowds every single year—last year, it had 30,000 attendees, including fans, creators, and those who work in the industry. The conference has also added international offshoots in recent years.

The mixture of public-facing and B2B elements gives the convention the feel of an event like Comic-Con and an industry event all the same. That’s a tough thing to balance: The organizers of the gaming-focused Electronic Entertainment Expo have struggled to mix growing public interest with the expo’s B2B roots, and even San Diego’s Comic-Con, which draws 130,000 people annually to an event largely intended for public consumption, has struggled to keep that overwhelming public interest in check.

But VidCon, which often generates high-traffic viral videos of its own, has somehow managed to balance out those competing needs, and not at the cost of industry needs, either; Hank Green even launched an offshoot group, the Internet Creators Guild, a couple of years ago.

Hank, who is more active in running the conference than his brother, plans to stay on board in the coming years. (John has another gig; he’s a bestselling author whose books have been made into popular movies.)

Events That Act Like Media Outlets

At ASAE’s Springtime Expo in 2016, 360 Live Media CEO Don Neal made the case that events are often in the media business, which might hint at why a company like Viacom might buy a conference like VidCon, as well as why a traditional media company like Gannett would put so much emphasis on running its own events.

“You have to build an event, deliver an event with flawless execution. But if you view what you do through the lens of inspiration, through the lens of a media platform, you are designing live media experiences,” Neal said in his remarks. “Yes, you are a planner. You’re also a designer, a creator. You know you are in charge of making sure all the trains run on time; you have to be a good logistician. But you’re a live media producer.”

VidCon is many things, but perhaps the most important thing is that it’s an ecosystem—it’s the kind of show that both delivers and creates content for a broad but very influential audience. It’s the center of many YouTubers’ calendar year. And it hits that audience in numerous ways, like some of the best modern media outlets do.

Considering that, it’s understandable why the company that owns MTV and Comedy Central wants in.

VidCon cofounder and organizer Hank Green, shown at the 2014 edition of the event. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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