VidCon Extends Online Programming Year-Round, To Go Hybrid In Late 2021

After a summer-long virtual version of its sprawling influencer conferences, ViacomCBS-owned VidCon announced plans to shift to a hybrid online and live model beginning in the second half of next year. It also will begin creating online programming year-round, reshaping the events-driven company into an online content creator.

“We took advantage of the fact that we had a pause,” said Jim Louderback, VidCon’s general manager. “We could have sat there and licked our wounds, or we could try and build something new and try and figure out where the world was going to be when we got on the other side of this. And that’s what we did.”

Beginning in the second half of 2021, the company will, wherever possible, layer online experiences and content atop its live, in-person events in the United States, Asia, Mexico and Europe. In the meantime, VidCon will continue creating online content between live events, resuming online programming Oct. 27, about a month after wrapping up a summer “season” that featured dozens of online happenings.

“We’re still going to do face-to-face events,” Louderback said. “And we’re still going to make some amazing experiences. But we’re adding on the ability to engage with people wherever they are.”

VidCon began reshaping itself away from its annual mid-summer takeover of the Anaheim Convention Center in Southern California, the mammoth event that has been the company’s mothership since a modest beginning 11 years ago in a Los Angeles hotel ballroom.

In recent years, the in-person event attracted 40,000 or more attendees, including herds of fans, fleets of online creators, and top executives from social-media platforms, brands and other companies. The live events were effectively three conferences in one, for execs, creators, and fans, and proved so successful that VidCon expanded over the past three years into several international gatherings.

Faced with the pandemic’s limits, this summer VidCon went virtual in a remarkably ambitious way. It retrained staff, and rolled out 156 online events, panels, keynotes, and meet-and-greets of several kinds, spread across 13 weeks and attracted more than 850,000 users. Now, the plan is to integrate all that with large in-person gatherings whenever they become a viable business again.

The company also has built up its presence on the Discord messaging platform, with followup conversations with creators after online events, and a series of “Ask Me Anything” chats. VidCon’s Discord server has grown to more than 18,000 subscribers over the summer. Discord plans now include weekly sessions for creators featuring talks with audience-development experts, Louderback said.

The company is also planning how to extend the VidCon Now programming to its international markets, after some 46 percent of summer viewership came from overseas audiences, Louderback said. As it was, even with programming that might be running at 2 am in Asia or Europe, fans were participating, and talking about how glad they were to have the chance.

“There’s so many people who don’t have the money or the ability to travel but they’re still very interested in becoming a creator or expanding their creative chops,” Louderback said. “Or they’re fans of creators who are global.”

The new internationally focused programming will begin in connection with VidCon Mexico and VidCon Asia, “where virtual panels will be programmed in native languages and appropriate time zones, providing locally relevant experiences to a global audience,” the company said. 

VidCon plans to return to Anaheim “next summer,” though Louderback said he wasn’t ready to make any specific announcements.As big as the changes are, however, Louderback said they’re vital, and a recognition of the shift facing all live events companies.

“I don’t think you can have an event in 2021 that’s not hybrid,” Louderback said. “So that’s one of those things that I think it’s table stakes for any event.”

Eventually, the company plans to add digital-only ticket tiers to its events, creating another revenue source amid the uncertainties ahead.

The 2021 Anaheim plans are an example, offering what the company called in a release “new digital ticketing options for its attendees – one that offers live streaming of key fan-focused sessions and another that delivers on-demand access to Industry and Creator Track workshops, panels, and keynotes year round.”

The company also announced a new brand identity, to subtly move away from iconography similar to long-time sponsor YouTube, Louderback said. That’s part of broader shift in the organization’s focus to include “all kinds of community-led creators” beyond video, to include podcasting, books, comics and other content closely tied to a fan community.

The new branding “allows us to move away from being more closely aligned with YouTube, which we’re not,” Louderback said. “We love YouTube, they’ve been our biggest sponsor, and they’ll continue to be and they’re a huge part of what we do. But we’re TikTok, we’re Snap, we’re Insta. We’re platform agnostic. So that’ll help us get that across as well.”

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