Friday, October 17, 2014

The stars of YouTube: Buffer Festival 2014

I’ve been blogging so much lately I feel like I may need a full on A&E Intervention soon, but dammit, there’s lots going on, so blog I do. Today I am here to tell you that the “everybody’s famous” future has arrived. And not only that, it has a burgeoning industry to go along with it. I know this because I’m currently attending a festival of the stars, or more accurately ‘microstars’, of YouTube. It’s called Buffer Festival, and from this vantage point it has been most interesting to observe the trajectory of YouTube celebrities from the earliest days, when it was the domain of the weird, to the midpoint a few years ago when it was everyday people and their largely accidental viral videos, to today, the age of the intentional YouTube star who knows how to navigate through the new ecosystem of fan communities, brands, and multiple revenue streams.

Intentional celebrity: YouTuber's booth
 at Buffer Festival's Industry Day

YouTube in the director's chair
 at Buffer Festival 2014
YouTube turns 10 this year and the little site that at first seemed like a repository for all that was ridiculous and/or a waste of time online will bring in about $5 billion in revenue this year. This means that for the first time it may actually be a profitable endeavor for parent company Google.

And along with this established path to profitability has come a brigade of young YouTubers, eager to make their mark in this new industry-outside-an-industry. They are essentially independent creators, some associated with MCNs (multi-channel networks), some not, and in both cases monetizing, aka getting paid, via advertising that runs before their videos, as well as by business opportunities they build on the foundation of their Internet famous-ness.

Yesterday was “industry day", the day before the full festival of screenings, meetups, and galas began, and I managed to stick my head into a few panels to glean some insights into this new face of YouTube.

Like the banner says, it’s now the business of YouTube, and to that end the conference rooms were filled with representatives from advertising agencies and talent agencies, from brands and broadcasters looking for the next big thing, and with tech companies and marketing consultants looking to mediate between them all.

Before I head to next panel I thought I would share a few pictures with you, along with a few nuggets from industry day, and then I’ll jump back onto the blog tomorrow with an update from today’s screenings and sessions. Yes, I've been watching YouTube videos in cinemas, actual movie theaters, which means a lot of giant talking heads videotaped in their bedrooms.

From the “Why is Hollywood Getting Involved” Panel:

 “We need to realize that the days of forcing people to go places and do things are over. Because if you do your job and you build an audience, and relationships, your fans will ‘show up’ and the money will go to where the audiences are online.”

“I’m reading a book now about the early days of ESPN, and not only did everyone laugh at those guys when they started, they did not have a clue about what they were doing. Today they’re the single most valuable media property in the world, and I can imagine a world where the things people are doing online end up the same way.”

“Audiences are migrating online. They’re shifting away from TV, they’re shifting away from movies. This was one of the worst summers for blockbuster movies.  And media buyers are now counselling their clients to spend 25% of their budgets on digital. This is a huge shift.”

Click here for Part 2 and here for Part 3 of my Buffer Festival Report

And/or in the meantime enjoy these candid snaps from the event.

The Tim Horton's down the block from the event
got into the festival spirit with a custom donut

YouTubers showing their wares on the big screen earlier today
YouTuber Matt G124 getting mic'd up
for an interview with the CBC crew at TIFF Bell Lightbox,
one of the Buffer Festival venues

Fans queuing for the 'meetup' where they can get their picture taken
with assorted YouTubers. No autographs allowed. (Too time consuming)