Veteran YouTube creator and VidCon co-founder Hank Green is eagerly anticipating the event’s debut in Asia this December. He spoke to Vidcon Asia to talk about starting the conference back in 2010, gives his take on TikTok, and explains how online video creators can thrive in today’s digital landscape.
“In the age of the internet we don’t just want to see our favourite people, we want to understand what they do,” renowned YouTuber Hank Green explains.
Green is known to millions as one half of the VlogBrothers, coming to prominence alongside his brother John in 2007. Since his rise to internet stardom over the last 12 years, Hank has turned his passions into successful ventures, co-founding VidCon, producing an online education series and, most recently, becoming a published novelist.
In between growing his personal empire and other interests, Green still makes time for his fans, posting a video to the VlogBrothers YouTube channel each week.
The genesis of VidCon came after Green visited a series of different industry events, as both a working journalist and self-confessed nerd.
“I really admired what the guys at Penny Arcade had done,” Green says. “They’d mixed a joy and a passion for video games and the culture thereof, with people who were making stuff. Fans could go and enjoy the craft of making video games – and having those things in the same place.”
At the time he was attending these events, Green remembers thinking, ‘where’s the meeting place for online creators’?
Motivation soon morphed into action. In 2010 he and John founded VidCon in California – an event for those who loved to create and participate in the burgeoning world of online video.
Video has been a huge part of Hank’s own life, with his YouTube channel growing steadily from the time VlogBrothers was born. Today, around 3.3 million people are subscribers.
Building a large online community of supporters is something VidCon seeks to help aspiring creators do. Given the success of his own channel, Green is uniquely positioned to talk about the factors that drive audience growth.
“The specifics are different from year to year, but understanding the market is probably the most important thing,” Green explains, adding that “it’s essential to know how people silo themselves and how they’re siloed algorithmically.
“We’ve always created in silos, and we operate inside of them until someone creates a new one. So a good tip is to always be on the lookout for content that is similar to your own, but not the same.”
Green also stresses that it isn’t always those with the largest budgets that make the most successful videos.
“One thing online video creators are experts in – and it’s something traditional media people often struggle with – is spending very little money while still being good at their craft.
“You hear, ‘so-and-so spent $30,000 on the set of this show, so it must be good’, but it turns out you can have a video show with a cast of one, and it is still able to make a big impact.”
Being able to adapt and respond to current trends and events is also important, Green says.
“Online video changes very fast, so if you’re making YouTube content that looks like it was from 2017, people will say, ‘oh, that looks old’.”
YouTube stars are, of course, just some of those who speak at VidCon events. Over 10 years, celebrities, innovative creators and thought leaders have all shared their stories and expertise to tens of thousands of attendees. One that stood out for Green was Burnie Burns, the CEO of Rooster Teeth.
“Burnie spoke about how his business was transformed – not by the millions who watched his content, but by the thousands of fans who showed their support via Kickstarter. He emphasised that while we may think of an audience of millions as the key to success, when it comes down to it, an engaged group of uber fans can be much more substantial.”
But before you have an army of supporters, how do creators build a sustainable business through video platforms? Clearly the platforms need to support them in making it a viable operation, Green says, which brings him to the emerging powerhouse TikTok
“TikTok clearly has developed at a very fast speed. It is very interesting from an audience creation standpoint,” he explains. “With all new platforms, as a creator, you need to find a way to monetise and develop a business to sustain yourself.
“Frankly, that’s the reason Vine didn’t succeed. People would have made it work if they were getting a paycheck, but nobody was. TikTok however, have been a lot more thoughtful about that. YouTube, however, is still the best in town for enabling creators to monetise, I believe.”
The ability to make money aside, Green also suggests that the growth in video creation has more than a little to do with accessibility and barriers to entry being lowered.
“What has happened in the last 10 to 15 years is that suddenly everyone can make a video. Everyone has a high definition camera in their pocket. It has opened up a whole new world for content makers, and the best become stars. People now watch these success stories and think ‘I can do it too’.
“When it used to cost thousands of dollars to produce quality videos, only the biggest players could do it. That model has now been broken.”
Despite the fact that everyone can be a star, there’s also an inherent joy of creation shared by humanity, Green believes, and the emergence of inexpensive, easy-to-use platforms has democratised the process of creativity.
“I use this analogy: I play guitar and I love playing guitar. But I don’t expect to get paid for playing guitar. But just because some guitarists get paid millions a year, it doesn’t devalue my playing guitar at my local pub for nothing more than the love of the craft.”
The new era of online video – along with the star power of some of its most successful practitioners – has helped VidCon become a leading international event. Indeed, in just 10 years an event that started off in a Los Angeles hotel ballroom has now expanded globally to London, Melbourne, and soon, Singapore.
Green says he is especially excited to share the experience of VidCon with a new market.
“We can bring a level of understanding of the industry and creation that is pretty unique. It’s been fascinating to watch it grow.
“It’s been really powerful to have VidCon spread elsewhere, as it prevents some of the same mistakes being made, and creates more opportunities for investment. Other countries have been able to benefit from advances made elsewhere over the last decade.
“I’m really excited to continue seeing the online video revolution evolve. It’s great to see it spread across the world.”