Six Years Into VidCon, A Whole New World

In this -- the tenth year of YouTube and the sixth year of VidCon -- online video is in a mighty celebratory mode, even because more entities like Facebook and Vessel are becoming competitors, and the big cats like CBS and HBO and Comcast are using their muscle too.

Less than 2,000 people came to the first VidCon in 2010, held in a hotel in Los Angeles. Over 20,000 are at this one at the convention center in Anaheim and among them are wheelers and dealers from around the world, and fans from Fresno or Athens, Ohio.

Pretty neatly, online video has given new life to media warhorses like Katie Couric, now at Yahoo,  (who really is not a horse; sorry for that) who spent yesterday talking to Frank Ze, the visionary of BuzzFeed. Entertainment in a puffball Q&A, but downright scholarly compared to E!’s birds-eye look at the show: VidCon 101: Here Are 15 YouTube Stars to Know About If You Want To Be Hip With the Kids.

Yes, online video and YouTube have changed the world, but a lot has come with this video revolution. Mainly we’ve given up a lot of ourselves to marketers for the privilege of seeing video, or relating with our friends on Facebook or even commenting innocently enough on a clever commercial.

For younger people who never really experienced it, once it was hard for everybody to know your business. Now, it is impossible--really impossible--to avoid it.  What we avoid is thinking about it. But the other day, I wanted to read up a little on the Koran--seriously--and had to think about how this might be used against me. So far, so good. No odd clicks on the phone. But that paranoia, I realized, is nothing new. That’s life. Cookies and the NRA.

I don’t think that will come up much at VidCon. It’s not to say thoughtful people like John Green, the co-founder (along with his brother Hank) don’t concern themselves with deeper issues that Smosh does, because clearly he does. The Greens are are an Internet force, and always reminding us smart, noble things get done with online video. But YouTube has invented a community that not many in the ad world know about or can articulate, but YouTubers recognize their  own impossible to categorize nature, and resents people who try too hard to do it.

“The kinds of video that mean the most to us online—the ones that help us to lead fuller and better connected lives,” Green said in a small snippet from his welcoming speech the other day,  “are dramatically undervalued by advertising.” But in that hall, advertisers were there to pretend he wasn’t right.

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