VidCon: Brands & Media Companies, If You Miss It, You Don’t Get It (and You Will Be Left Behind)

/ Jun 30, 2014

VidCon2014
By Peter Csathy
VidCon 2014 —  like the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair that heralded a new era of disruptive technology (how do you like that reference?) — this may be the event upon which we look back and say, for media companies, brands, and marketers, “This was the moment that defined the mainstreaming of premium short-form video content and consumer engagement via technology and the fundamental overall transformation of the media and marketing business in general.”

That is no hyperbole — that analogy is apt, and this sea change is real, very real.  And to “get” — really “get” — that fundamental point (from which fundamental strategic shifts inevitably must follow — or not, at your peril), you just gotta be there. On the ground. At VidCon. You just gotta see and “feel” the energy of the throngs of 10- to 20-year-old kids who scream and swarm — a la “back in the day” with The Beatles (another bell-weather of things to come at that time) — every time they see a YouTube “star.”  Those shrieks — that frenzy — happened every 10-15 minutes (or more) throughout the seven hours I attended my first VidCon yesterday.

And those seven hours cemented — even more deeply — what I had already concluded (but hadn’t really “felt” on a mass scale with the new generation of consumers — i.e., the kids that media and brands want and need to reach right now). That you better get on the bus in this transformed YouTube economy or forever be left behind (this picture of the kids with the signs says it all). I was not alone with the deep internalization of this point. Long-time digital media exec David Hyman — who founded MOG music (acquired by Beats Music) and with whom I interacted “back in the day” at Musicmatch when he was with Gracenote (acquired by Sony) — summarized it perfectly; in his words, “This Blows My Mind!” I violently agreed.

But it is not just about the fans. VidCon brings together industry execs and the creative community together with the fans — something that is rarely done at industry conferences (Comic-Con is another rare example). And here’s the point — all media companies and brands need to have their minds blown. We are in the midst of a sea-change people. Fundamental sea-change. The media business — and the way that marketers/brands engage with consumers — will never be the same.

But, the vast majority of media and marketing execs still just don’t “get” it (or don’t want to “get” it and hope to wish these transformative/disruptive changes away).

One glaring example. YouTube apparently invited the top 100 brands to attend VidCon — to experience it — on their dime. Yes, YouTube offered to pay for all of their expenses. But you know what? Only 30 of those 100 brands took them up on that offer! That is insane! Those other 70 marketing execs should be, um, demoted! They will be if they don’t change their mindsets fast, because their worlds are being rocked right now. And, the pace of this transformation (disruption, or whatever you want to call it) is accelerating.

Here is another example. These 10-20 somethings “think different” — they just do. The world of YouTube has wired their brains differently — and their sensibilities are just different (and in many ways, refreshing). Gone are the days — at least for them — of the traditional definition of “celebrity.” Yes, they still may like the boys of One Direction, but “celebrities” of this new media age are fundamentally different from the celebrities of yore. They are relatable. They are approachable. They are authentic. They are just simply “regular” kids who somehow amassed a frenzied following using the YouTube platform. That’s why, no matter how many times they were accosted at VidCon yesterday, they stopped, talked, and took pictures with the kids who adore them.

Again, the only way to really “get” this is to attend VidCon — to swim in that sea of kids — to watch how they react. To watch how they cry after meeting their favorite YouTube “star” (yes, I saw several girls crying because that experience was simply overwhelming). If you have any doubts, just watch these two videos (the first shows screaming girls flock to YouTube “star” Ricky Dillon — and the second shows fellow stars Kingsley and Lilly Singh take the stage for a Q&A). VidCon 2014, among other things, was Coachella for Kids! (I coined that, so don’t use unless you give me royalties…).

One more glaring example underscoring how much the media world has changed for Gen Z took place when legendary media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg took the stage for a fireside chat following a panel of digital media/YouTube economy execs. In the words of a colleague who attended that event, “the room was packed, but half the people left when Katzenberg took the stage.” To be clear, this is no slam on Katzenberg. He absolutely fills (and overflows) a room in the “traditional” media world. But, that’s the point. That world is gone. Nothing is “traditional” anymore. For media execs. For marketing execs. (Fortunately for DreamWorks, Katzenberg “gets” it — that’s why DreamWorks is ahead of the curve with its acquisitions of MCNs AwesomenessTV and Big Frame, as well as its recent launch of YouTube network Dreamworks TV). Doesn’t mean that “traditional” media has no role in this brave new world — it just means that so-called traditional media platforms (TV, motion pictures, etc.) are now just part of the overall multi-platform spectrum and world in which we live.

VidCon 2014. For me, it’s the single most important and “must attend” industry event of the year. I would argue that it should be the same for media, marketing, and brand execs.

This article originally appeared on Peter Csathy’s blog — Digital Media Update. Get more opinions on the MCN investment and acquisition streak, digital music, Dreamworks TV, and more by checking out his blog regularly. He’ll also share contributions on VideoInk, so stay tuned…and follow him on Twitter: @pcsathy.

Peter Csathy is the CEO of Manatt Digital Media Ventures; formerly, CEO of Sorenson Media; CEO of SightSpeed (acquired by Logitech); President of Musicmatch (acquired by Yahoo!); COO of eNow (acquired by peter csathyAOL); long-time media/digital media executive (Universal Studios, New Line Cinema, Savoy Pictures); frequent guest blogger on Huffington Post, TechCrunch, others; have served on public, private, and non-profit boards, including Giving Tree Movement, the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego, and the Founder Institute; appointed to Cloud Commission that made recommendations to President Obama; live with my wife Luisa and our two children, Hunter and Luca, in sunny San Diego, California.

Header image via Twitter / @AwesomenessTV

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