How VidCon Grew Into a Movie Marketer’s Dream

Jem and The Holograms Vidcon
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

VidCon isn’t just for shrieking YouTube fangirls anymore.

The event, now in its sixth year, has blossomed from humble beginnings into a major attraction for digital entertainment and its feverish followers. And now, with an estimated 20,000-plus attendees filling the Anaheim Convention Center last week, VidCon has attracted studios looking to manufacture buzz for upcoming releases.

Of course it’s not as big a draw as 35-year-old Comic-Con, but the convention, boosted by its youthful demo, is fast growing in importance for movie pitchsters. “VidCon has become an important annual event that’s packed with the most influential online celebrities and avid members of their communities,” says Danielle DePalma, Lionsgate’s exec VP of worldwide digital marketing.

This year, VidCon-goers got one of the first looks at the full trailer for Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2,” and a screening of the studio’s sci-fi thriller “Insurgent” as part of Fullscreen-sponsored movie nights. Other films in the Fullscreen lineup were Sony’s “Pixels” (a day before it opened wide) and Universal horror pic “The Visit.” Fullscreen also served up a sneak peek at its own teen drama “The Outfield,” featuring digital stars Nash Grier and Cameron Dallas.

On the show floor, Universal pitched October release “Jem and the Holograms,” based on the cult-favorite ’80s animated TV series about a small-town girl who becomes a singing superstar. The studio launched a digital casting call at VidCon — inviting fans and YouTube creators to post “Jem”-inspired videos on social channels by Aug. 10 for a shot at appearing in the movie. (On-screen fan appearances will be limited to brief excerpts from those video creations, according to the studio, whereas the project’s filmmakers had previously said they actually wanted to discover unknown talent online to cast as stars in the movie.) Universal also partnered with Defy Media’s Clevver entertainment network on a video campaign promoting the film, comprising interviews with top YouTube talent.

Meanwhile, Disney-owned Maker Studios was plugging Disney Channel’s TV movie “Descendants” at its VidCon booth alongside YouTube star Chester See, with video from the event to go up online.

The hope for the studios: that the big-name digital stars attending VidCon will fall in love with their productions — and vlog, tweet or otherwise spread the word about the pics to their millions of fans. The confab’s targeted millennial crowd, says Universal EVP of digital marketing Doug Neil, “can ignite conversation and exposure for these films.”

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