For most of a decade, one of the biggest annual migrations to Orange County, Calif., was not flocks of swallows to San Juan Capistrano but herds of influencer-adoring tweens and teens to nearby Anaheim, for VidCon, the O.G. gathering of online creators, the platforms and companies behind them, and the brands trying to reach their fans.
This week, VidCon returns to its ancestral home, three years after the last Gathering of the Tweens at the Anaheim Convention Center, across the street from Disneyland. It promises to be a screaming good time, if one that has changed significantly from the old days, said Pam Kaufman, President of Consumer Products and Experiences at Paramount
Perhaps the most notable change in 2022 will be lead sponsor. YouTube held that prime position for years, stepping up after seeing the ardent fans of creators on its video platform who turned out for the first VidCon in 2010, held in a Century City hotel’s basement ballroom.
This year, in a changing of the social-media guard, that lead sponsor will be upstart TikTok, which boomed during the lockdown to more than 1 billion users worldwide. Like YouTube in years past, TikTok will headline the industry keynote presentation along with a dozen other panels.
“The fact that Tik Tok is coming on is a really big change,” said VidCon SVP Marketing & Communications Sarah Tortoreti, who with SVP Operations Colin Hickey is the organization’s co-lead. “It gives us a new kind of energy. More than half the featured players are new this year.”
The change in lead sponsor likely won’t affect the background noise regularly punctuating proceedings, often approaching the microphone-busting decibel levels of Shea Stadium-era Beatles when young fans spot a favorite influencer on the convention center’s sprawling grounds.
As in past years, VidCon will really be three shows in one. Thursday will feature a one-day industry track with top platform, brand and distributor executives, safely tucked on a top floor above the occasional chaos.
Beginning Wednesday night through Sunday, two other “shows” will target other parts of the industry: a creator track, segregated physically from fans to allow influencers to talk with peers about how they do what they do; and a ground-floor community track and exhibition hall for something like 30,000 enthusiastic young fans and their stolidly suffering family members.
“It’s not considered an ancillary business anymore, which is why VidCon is part of Consumer Products and Experiences,” said Kaufman, who also oversees theme parks, hotels, games, live stage events and tours. “It’s about housing all the monetization of our content in one space. We were seeing through consumer insights that 8-year-olds were more trusting of influencers than celebrities, the president, teachers. That’s why VidCon is so exciting. We want to see who’s going.”
Among the 350 featured creators this year are plenty of big names, such as MrBeast, a Kansas-born creator who uses his hugely popular stunt videos to raise money for charity, TikTok megastar Charli D’Amelio, and VidCon’s co-founding brothers Hank and John Green.
Corporate backers include various parts of Amazon
Other speakers include COO Liz Jenkins of Reese Witherspoon’s recently acquired production company Hello Sunshine, MSNBC President Rashida Jones, Lionsgate VP Digital Marketing Falon Fatemi, Universal Pictures VP of Global Digital Marketing Nicole Schlegel, Love + Hip Hop star Rasheeda Frost, Pocket.Watch founder Chris Williams, and top social-media executives for Nestle’, Chipotle and Duolingo.
And the appearance of notables such as Roblox
Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite and Unreal Engine 3-D graphics software, will have a booth spotlighting its recent acquisition, lockdown-era hit Fall Guys (The Fortnite bus has made previous exhibit floor appearances).
VidCon’s Anaheim re-emergence comes after a rugged couple of years for all trade shows, though the sector has “clawed back” some of the ground it lost during pandemic lockdowns and online-only events, according to PWC’s
Recovery is well underway, but PWC still predicts the segment won’t fully recover to pre-pandemic revenue levels until after 2026, the last year of the new report’s forecasting window.
“The risk of further restrictions coming into force as new variants emerge remains an ongoing concern, but as things stand, trade shows are expected to come out of the pandemic as the fastest-growing B2B segment in the US during the next five years,” the report says.
The biggest shift will be a continued hybridization of in-person events, with their potential for unique and valuable experiences, alongside online streams that provide global reach and deep data on participants.
Indeed, during the Lockdown Summer of 2020, perhaps no organization invested more in online experiences than VidCon, replacing its in-person gathering with 12 weeks of online industry talks, creator appearances, how-to seminars and more, averaging 15 online events a week, Tortoreti said. Viewers from 145 countries tuned in to at least one event that summer.
“We were very ambitious that summer, then we rebranded,” Tortoreti said.
That breakneck online schedule, using a variety of technology platforms with a staff that was learning to operate them on the fly, moderated by the fall of 2020. Nonetheless, VidCon Now remains a regular part of the organization’s offerings, with a daily VidTalks video segment on LinkedIn and YouTube, a regular email and LinkedIn newsletter featuring industry developments, and two to three other online sessions per week, Tortoreti said.
As the pandemic ebbed and flowed, the organization also has held three international gatherings in Melbourne, Australia, and two more in London since the last mothership gathering in Anaheim. Other international VidCons have been announced for Mexico City and Madrid later this year, with more to come next year, Kaufman said.
VidCon Anaheim will also feature an online component, with streams of “a majority” of creator appearances on the Community Stage, as well as appearances on other main stages and the arena stage. The upside: not only greater distribution of the VidCon experience to far-flung fans who can’t make it to Anaheim, but also, distributed screaming.