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Vidcon 2018: Viacom Makes Its Mark, Organizers Focus on Diversity

Vidcon CEO Jim Louderback promises that this year’s annual online video confab won’t become a corporate branding exercise for Viacom after it acquired the conference last February.

“We were both really clear during the sale that they didn’t want to change us and we didn’t want to be changed,” Louderback said in a phone interview. “Because if you do that, you’re going ruin it.”

Expected to draw 35,000 people, the event is in its ninth iteration and will take place at the Anaheim Convention Center June 20-23. It has evolved into a massive multi-day event featuring panel sessions for industry leaders and content creators, digital stars, fans, numerous parties and even a concert by Marshmello, the American DJ and electronic music producer. That’s a far cry from the conference’s more meager beginnings in a ballroom at a Century City hotel with just 1,400 attendees.

The conference has to be seen as neutral ground for all of the platforms and media companies that attend, according to Louderback, including Fox, NBC, Scripps, YouTube and others.

The only additional Viacom influence you’ll see at Vidcon this year, Louderback, said are sponsored both from networks like MTV, which will be doing a “Cribs” activation. Nickelodeon, like in years past, is also sponsoring a booth, and so has Paramount Network.

Vidcon has grown into the must-attend event for young fans of a wide array of influencers and video personalities who receive are received like rock stars. Because Vidcon skews young and female, it gives it the feel of a Justin Bieber concert, as young fans gush and shriek over their favorite digital celebs.

Brent Weinstein, the newly-named chief innovation officer at UTA, which represents Vidcon, called the conference “the world’s most impactful event celebrating online video, bringing together the biggest creators, industry and thought leaders, large brand marketers.”

The unique environment, Weinstein said, is “built to highlight and bring to life the special relationship between online video stars and their fans.”

This year, the event will feature bolstered security, like RFID-embedded wristbands to scan people in and out of the event. Notable this year is the emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Vidcon organizers invited a number women and people of colors to lead panel sessions. Half of the featured creators this year are women and 40% are multicultural.

Vidcon programming will be divided among three different so-called tracks: one for industry leaders interested in networking and discussing business deals, one for content creators interested in learning the tools of the online video trade, and one for community, meaning the fan events.

Among the notable events is a will feature a keynote conversation with Skybound Entertainment CEO and “The Walking Dead” executive producer, David Alpert. MACRO founder and CEO Charles D. King will also talk about his decision to leave WME, where he was the first African-American to make partner, to start his own multi-platform, multicultural media company.

Abby Woods, co-founder of Quartermain Media, a black-owned production company, will for the first time bring to Vidcon up-and-coming black digital talent. Woods will also lead a panel in the industry track called, “Coloring Outside of the Lines: Debunking Myths and Providing Best Practices for Influencers of Color Working with Brands and Advertisers.

“It’s this ultimate opportunity to authentically share your culture, share your struggle and share your passion for video,” Woods said in an interview.

Online video’s low barrier to entry means it has an advantage over film and television to better showcase diversity, Woods said. “People are realizing that you don’t have to have a certain look,” Woods said. “You just have to have your own message and it just needs to come across as authentic and relatable. And how hard is it to be you?”

Jennifer Perri, vice president of Univision Creator Network (UCN), said she’s heartened to see the focus on diversity at Vidcon this year.

“When we’re talking about inclusion, we’re not doing it just for the sake (of diversity),” Perri said. “They know this is who the audience is watching. These are important figures and we need to include them in the conversation.”

Perri, a Vidcon veteran, said UCN has been steadily growing the number of digital influencers they have signed from a few dozen to nearly 200. Latino influencers, she said, have been able to provide content to a largely underserved audience of Latino millennials. “This is the new face of America,” she said.

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