At the VidCon #tbt panel Thursday, July 11, YouTubers with some of the longest-running careers reminisced on the old days of VidCon and the platform of YouTube as a whole.
Hank Green led the panel. He is a YouTuber who has been making vlogs and educational videos alongside his brother and author John Green for more than 12 years.
“It’s crazy to think that we’ve done this for a third of our lives,” Hank Green said.
With this past weekend having been the 10th anniversary of VidCon at the Anaheim Convention Center, I couldn’t help but want to learn more about how the conference has changed over the years. No matter what event I attended, everything VidCon had to offer spoke to the sheer change of YouTube and the convention since their conception.
On July 11, I started out attending the Evolution of Online Video Communities panel, where YouTubers spoke about how the platform’s audiences and demand for content have changed.
“Many popular channels have transformed from performative to confessional content,” said Tay Zonday, a YouTuber most known for his viral video “Chocolate Rain.” “Content that was popular went from being about a novelty to being about loyalty [to a creator’s fanbase].”
The panelists discussed the societal implications and potential responsibilities when a creator’s audience starts to become increasingly more demanding and unhinged.
“There’s a certain entitlement and expectation from many fans of what a YouTuber should and shouldn’t be, and that’s where you start to get into trouble,” said Jarvis Johnson, a YouTuber with 900,000 subscribers.
As previously mentioned, the VidCon #tbt panel showcased how YouTube has changed from a creator’s perspective. It was there Hank Green said much of the sensationalized content that is popular nowadays didn’t usually happen because YouTube wasn’t something to profit off of when it was first created.
Meghan Camarena, the creator of the YouTube channel Strawburry17, said the lack of a monetary motivation created a healthy, creative environment.
“When someone new would pop up on YouTube, all of us would support them at once and then it would help drive their views and subscribers,” Camarena said.
Now it’s quite the opposite.
Iman Crosson, who is behind the channel “Alphacat” and famous for his Barack Obama impersonation, said YouTube creativity has become exhausted, making videos a competition of who can get the most attention.
Beyond the major change in creator content, YouTube as a brand also seems to be changing its priorities. Just one quick glance at the sponsors’ list on the VidCon website showcases how lucrative the platform has become. Although the title of YouTuber has its own definition of fame, VidCon has attracted mainstream celebrities to partake in some of its events. Last Saturday, July 13, the Nike Sport Court featured the NBA 2019 Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
By looking at all of this from a surface level, it may seem as if YouTube has lost sight of its creators who gave the platform success in the first place. However, as with any technology, YouTube still has the capability to do good.
Andrew Rea, who runs the cooking channel “Binging with Babish,” held a Q&A the afternoon of July 11. He spoke to the many ways YouTubers can have a positive impact on others.
With nearly every question an audience member asked, each began with some sort of a personal testimony of how Rea’s content has changed their life. From young people learning how to cook for the first time to parents who feel their families were brought closer by his videos, it was clear a cooking channel has the power to do a lot of good.
Rea also said how crucial the fan-to-creator relationship is to the success of his channel and personal motivation. He emphasized how much of an impact it is that people recommend dishes in his videos’ comment sections.
Although it may have some downsides, it seemed that the fan-to-creator relationship is what draws people the most to binge their favorite creators and to come to VidCon.
On Saturday, I spoke to Chase Butler, who has his own YouTube channel and has been coming to VidCon for the past five years. He said he enjoys returning each year to meet friends and fellow creators he only gets to see once a year. He even has a jar filled with old wristbands from prior VidCons, in which he can remember specifically where each one is from.
Butler said he has faith in the integrity of YouTube because of how demanding the platform is. “You see all these YouTubers who are only in it for the Ferraris and mega-mansions, but if you don’t really enjoy what you’re doing, you’re not going to last very long.”
YouTube has enabled Butler to have many different opportunities, but the main draw of being an influencer online is the ease of it, he noted.
“Anyone with a smartphone can be a YouTuber,” Bulter said. “Being a YouTuber, you have a much deeper connection with your fans; you post content on your schedule and connect with fans however you want.”
Joseph Beaird is an editorial intern for OC Weekly from Yorba Linda. He is a sophomore majoring in Journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.