Over the weekend I had the chance to visit Vidcon in Anaheim, California, the yearly celebration of Internet celebrity that has become a harbinger of changes coming to the entire media industry. Now in its sixth year, the convention brings together the entire Internet celebrity ecosystem together for a few days of panels, selfies and hugging — lots of hugging.
Jenna Marbles - 16 million subscribers
Captain Sparklez - 8 million subscribers
Toby Turner - 15 million subscribers
The experience was like jumping on the train that is pulling youth media consumption beyond anything we have experienced before.
The idea of internet celebrity was foreign to most just a few years ago. Now, things have changed.
The Internet celebrity phenomenon has its roots on YouTube, which remains the dominant platform at Vidcon. Long before creators like PewDiePie were making $7 million per year, the first YouTube stars were making just a little money off ads that ran alongside their videos. Some creators banded together to create the first "multi-channel networks" (MCNs), companies that grew to include thousands of stars and enjoy big acquisitions from major media companies.
And there is serious money here, too.
This mix of investment capital and ad dollars — something that wasn't around as recently as a few years ago — has dramatically changed the industry. Andrew Graham, a senior talent manager at Big Frame, a talent management firm that specializes in online stars, told me that YouTubers that might have once just wandered Vidcon with friends now have a big entourage.
"All of them have attorneys. They all have business managers. They all have publicists," he said.
The person-to-person authenticity that has become the hallmark of this cultural movement — and what makes it so appealing to marketers — is apparent in real life as well. Every so often someone will recognize someone else that they watch online and stop for an impromptu photo. If they're reasonably well known, a surprisingly orderly line or group will form.
There is a friendly closeness that seems to exist between these YouTube stars and their legions of fans. Everyone is calm. There is no drama.
You can see where I'm going with this.
In addition to talent managers, I spoke with some of these internet video stars and you may be surprised to learn that there is interest in expanding their brands into traditional media.
n fact, the media presence at Vidcon was considerable. Entertainment Weekly and People had a massive interview stage that was running just about all day for the duration of the convention, Thursday through Saturday.
NBC and ABC were there too in the form of their respective late-night shows featuring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. Of all the mainstream media attempts to break into this world, variety shows seem to have had the most success, with Fallon in particular generating numerous viral hits.
Coverage of this event is going more mainstream much like the history of coverage of San Diego's famous Comic Con which attracts 250,00 a day each summer.
Broadcast radio has, in many/most cases, lost its pioneering mojo. The industry has been on the defensive for fifteen years. What it needs is something to kick-start interest, awareness and add a bit of the "coolness" factor.
Through the ages, coolness has had its roots in youth. Broadcast radio used to appeal to this group, but in recent years it has seemingly abandoned interest in this group of forward-thinking consumers. The primary reason has been based in the theoretical lack of advertising dollars that could be accrued for a radio format catering to this group.
However, look anywhere advertising and marketing appear these days and you'll see which consumer groups are monopolizing the advertising dollars.
I found enough internet video stars at Vidcon in just two days interested in providing audio (and video) content to a radio station with the courage to do something different. Money follows these kids and an advertiser base in both audio and video would exist from day one.
Just imagine. A compelling, youth-based radio format featuring the top internet video stars providing relatable talk and music content as well as video content that can be housed on the station website and distributed to throngs of teens with mobile devices hanging on their every word.
Resuscitating broadcast radio doesn't really take much: just some ingenuity, creative thinking and courage.
Someone take this opportunity to do something important.
If these internet video stars believe they could attract the youth audience back to radio, then so should you. One of these stations in each major market could change things quickly for the broadcast radio industry.
I'll be glad to discuss this idea. Let's do it!
Dave Van Dyke
Bridge Ratings & Media Research