Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lessons learned at Buffer Festival 2014: People will pay

I have a number of things I want to share with you coming out of my attendance at this weekend’s Buffer Festival aka the gathering of the stars of YouTube and their fans. But I’m about to head out to observe the red carpet portion of the event; yes there’s a gala, where formal wear is expected of both fans and celebs (as per this special offer received via email) but I'm going in civilian garb as I'll merely be a spectator and will then likely come back home and blog some more. And in keeping with the egalitarian spirit of the festival, the red carpet is open to anyone. If you want to go to the Gala, it's a $50 ticket, plus however much that tux or gown rental runs you.

In the meantime I’d just like to say that one of the bigger surprises of this weekend has been seeing that in a time when people have either become accustomed to, or expect to, pay zip for their entertainment, the people of Buffer Festival are showing me that there are things for which they are happy to open their wallets.

In yesterday’s post I included this picture, taken yesterday around 5:30 pm at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (that’s the Canadian spelling, btw, for any non-Canadians reading who think I may have gone all French on them.)

You can’t see the beginning or the end of the queue, which gives you an idea of how long the line was. It was for what’s termed a “meetup”, and was one of three or four held each day of Buffer Festival. At the meetup people wait in line first to get into the theatre (again, Canadian spelling) and then a second time so they can form into a line to get their picture taken with the YouTube celebrity who’s there in the person. These pics are from the meetup for Rhett & Link, who I first discovered a couple of years ago for their low budget commercials made for local businesses.

“Our degrees our 2 years and our haircuts are 2 dollars"

YouTubers Rhett & Link, as the loving onslaught of
picture-seeking fans arrives
To get into the meetup you needed to have a ticket for the screening, which are the backbone of the Buffer Festival. And, even more ironically, the screenings were held at mega-cineplexes, those six level apocalypse-feeling places in the middle of downtown that one really has to wonder about the future of. 

Yes, people paid $15 to go to a cinema to watch YouTube videos they could watch for free at home or on their phone. The only difference was that the YouTubers on the screen were generally, but not always, present at the events.

So, naysayers, carp all you want, and say there’s no such thing as people willing to pay, that the Internet has ruined the entertainment industry, etc. Yes, the business models are still being worked out, but there are also tens of thousands of people making it work for themselves, and that’s on YouTube alone. What we can safely conclude is that there’s a new type of entertainment and a new type of performer resonating with people, and those are the ones that know how to be relatable and real more than professional and polished, the ones who understand the importance of cultivating relationships with their audience, and adding an actually sincere personal touch.

The walls of the Cineplex during Buffer Festival
adorned with posters promoting not movie stars, but YouTubers

One more data point from this weekend: In the world of YouTube, the superstars of the medium like Shay Carl, with over a billion views on his YouTube channel, take the time to meet individual fans and in these interactions compress the distance between performer and viewer.

And this is hardly an isolated incident. If you search on the hashtag #BufferFestival on Twitter you’ll see hundreds of tweets from people talking not just about the official meetups, but also about recognizing YouTubers on the streets of downtown Toronto this weekend. About being able to just go up and say hello to them, and being warmly greeted in return. You don’t get the Internet version of Tom Cruise’s bodyguards giving you double outstretched palms to keep you away. This, after all, is media made of the people and by the people and the etiquette and culture reflect it.

For more glimpses into the world of YouTubers and their fans at this weekend's Buffer Festival, here are two fan-created video diaries recently posted. Kind of a YouTube Parking Lot. Check them out here and here. Or for a view of the proceedings from the camera of a YouTuber, there's this little romp through a day at the fest.

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