Hank Green talks VidCon — and why we should pay attention to online video

Sure, Comic-Con has fans. But this weekend, Anaheim, Califorinia, will see an influx of super-passionate men and women who will put even the biggest Star Wars fanatic to shame. The destination? VidCon, the sixth annual meet-up of the biggest names in online video, from platforms including YouTube, Snapchat, and Vine. The brainchild of brothers Hank and John Green (of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns fame), VidCon started small in 2010 with just 1,200 attendees. This weekend, it’s expecting about 20,000.

We talked to the mastermind behind it all: Hank Green. Not only does he run the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel with John, but he’s launched a whole host of other educational channels, like SciShow and Crash Course, and he helped develop The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which became the first YouTube series to win a Primetime Emmy. Plus, he’s the guy who makes VidCon happen. So, we asked him about what to expect this year, as well as why we should all be paying attention to what’s happening in online video.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Things are obviously on such a bigger scale now than they were back in 2010. How have you seen things change?
HANK GREEN: VidCon’s goal has always been to evolve with the industry. Originally, in 2010, the majority of people who were enjoying YouTube videos also participated in the creation culture to some extent. At VidCon back then, people were a little like, “Can I come to the conference if I don’t make YouTube videos?” Whereas now, it is not that way, and of course there’s a lot of different demographics. You’ve got fans and you’ve got creators and you’ve got industry professionals, and I’ve always been excited to just capture whatever it is that’s interesting about online video right now. And there’s always fascinating things. And that enthusiasm from the community has been a driver from the beginning, but now it’s a bigger part of the conference, and I love it.

So what’s new this year? Is there anything in particular that you’re excited about?
Two big things. One is that we’re taking over the whole convention center this year, which we’ve never done before. So we’ve got the whole thing, it’s all us. Last year, we were sharing with a volleyball tournament, which was somewhat complicated because there were, unsurprisingly, fans of online video also attending the volleyball tournament. So there was a lot of crossover there, which we did not anticipate and had to deal with. But it’s funny. I, of course, never feel like VidCon is flying under the radar, but then suddenly you’re in this room with a volleyball tournament, and all these people who are playing volleyball are like, “Oh my God, how did I not know about this conference, this is so exciting that I get to be here!” And it’s like, well, you’re not technically, but…

And then we’ve also introduced the creator track this year because VidCon was originally created by creators, for creators — and also for the community and the industry. But my heart is with the creator because it’s how I have had such a cool life and been able to do so many cool things. I want to serve people who want to do that and who are doing that, so we created a specific track for that this year. I think last year some of those people felt kind of out of place, if they weren’t in the industry and not interested in paying $500 for an industry pass, but they also didn’t see themselves as just a fan. I’m really glad to be giving those people a place to fit in. That’s the kind of content that really gets me excited.

So what will the creator track look like? What kind of exclusive panels and content does your creator ticket get you into?
It’s everything from how to think about writing good online video, which is a different task than writing other kinds of media, to how to think about monetization, how to think about analytics, how to think about audience development. And also there are a ton of new platforms that we can be using. From an industry perspective, you talk about the platforms and you say, what’s interesting economically about these platforms? But from a creator perspective, it’s a totally different thing. It’s like, why do I want to use Vine, why do I want to use Snapchat, why is that different from YouTube, why is it different from Twitter? The landscape remains the same, but the questions you ask about the landscapes differ a great deal when you’re sitting at a different perspective.

This year, in particular, it feels like there’s even more of a blur between online media and older, more traditional forms of media — like Katie Couric is going to be there interviewing BuzzFeed’s Ze Frank. Like you said, you’ve always thought that online video is a huge deal (and many people would agree with you), but does it feel like older, more traditional media is starting to pay attention more?
I think that online video has a larger cultural influence than people think. I think that’s partially just because despite centuries of evidence, we tend to devalue the opinions of young people, even though they turn out to almost always be right and be the cultural influencers that define generations. But because it’s been around for long enough that some of those people are not so young anymore, it is starting to have a larger impact, and it is being recognized for that.

And that has its goods and its bads. Like, I’m ecstatic that Katie Couric is going to be at my conference, and I respect her and am enamored of her career. But at the same time, I kind of liked flying under the radar. I liked not having to deal with the traditional institutions of the entertainment industry because they’re mature and complicated and they have lots of money and power. The longer we could be under the radar, the more we could sort of have our influence and, in a way, not be threatened by it. At the same time, those people have resources that traditional online creators generally don’t have access to, which allows more interesting things to happen more quickly. So it’s exciting. It moves so fast. And that’s one of the huge problems we have with VidCon is that if we start planning the conference a year in advance, it’s going to be out of date by the time it’s done, so we really do have to do it late in the game by design. But there’s not a more exciting thing happening in media, and I’ve always been sort of a media dork, so it’s really cool to be at the center of it.

Earlier this year, you interviewed Barack Obama live on YouTube with GloZell Green and Bethany Mota. Did you get those same questions of influence and impact, with people questioning your legitimacy? What was the reaction like to that video?
Yeah, legitimacy is a huge question. And the default state is not legitimacy. You start out, you do not have legitimacy. The thing about culture is that it’s less unified now than it used to be, and so there are large groups of people who think that something is the pinnacle of legitimacy, while another large group of people are going to be thinking of it as the exact opposite of legitimacy, and we see that in legacy media as much as we see it in new media. But when people get up in my face about how the thing that I do, the conversations that I have, the relationship I have with my community, is in some way juvenile, it has a lot more to do with them not knowing. And why would you expect people to know all about all of these things? But if you’re going to consider it at all, consider it seriously. If you’re going to be thinking and talking about online video, don’t do it from a stance of complete ignorance. But if you want to be completely ignorant, just don’t talk about it. That’s fine. And that, of course, goes for all things.

Can’t make it to Anaheim yourself? You can follow all of our VidCon 2015 coverage online at ew.com/vidcon

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