Australia goes online at Vidcon 2019

Jini Maxwell

The conference brings the online offline for fans, creators and industry networks on YouTube.
Australia goes online at Vidcon 2019

Image by Rachit Tank on Unsplash

This year marks 10 years since Vidcon first launched in the US in 2009, and 3 years since it launched in Australia. Once more the Youtube conference will be gracing the Melbourne Convention Centre with three days (or four, depending on your ticket type) of Youtube, TikTok and social media madness.

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The conference is supported by a number of local partners including RMIT, QUT, The Melbourne Convention Bureau, Screen Australia and the City of Melbourne. Screen Australia also co-hosted a competition with VidCon called Pitcher Perfect that will offer young 'online narrative creators' the chance to pitch YouTube projects to a panel of industry experts, thereby gaining invaluable feedback, and potential professional contacts.

With a raft of international stars like Canadian LaurDIY, the Try Guys, as well as Vidcon co-founder Hank Green, fans will no doubt snap up the Community passes – but the expense must be significant for the organisers and sponsors. So why are Australian councils, funding bodies, and tertiary institutions so willing to fork out to bring Vidcon to our Antipodean shores? What’s the benefit for Australian screen industries?

Getting your ideas in the room

Vidcon isn’t all fun and filters. While last year saw two event streams, one for fans and one for industry insiders, this year offers three. The offering shows an increased focus on brands and commercial partnerships. Aside from the Community Festival stream for fans, who sign up for Q&As, panels and meet-and-greets with their faves, the Creators’ Conference offers skills-based workshops to aspiring creators and offers formal networking opportunities.

These networking and business opportunities are not just useful to attendees, but vital to VidCon’s Australian featured creators, who comprise over 60 percent of the program. What lies beneath the surface of almost every successful YouTube channel is a huge team of screen professionals. The creator track offers a chance for Australian screen professionals to get a look through the black mirror, and to network professionally with the publicists, agents, producers, editors, brand managers, as well as the stars, who have made it work online.

 

Australian featured creator Ann Reardon makes baking videos for her 3.7 million followers; her biggest hit reached over 37 million views.

Under the Influencer

The Industry Summit pass, the most expensive of the three, includes a full extra day of programming designed for brands and business. It comprises talks on measuring campaign performance, and how to ‘think like a producer’ when capitalising on the intimacy of the ‘direct-to-customer’ advertising opportunities that YouTube provides. As well as providing networking opportunities, this track dives deep into the numbers that keep the social media giant ticking: how brands can capitalise on influencers and online content to get their product trending.

On top of the Audited Media Association of Australia’s decision to form the Australian Influencer Marketing Council, created to develop best practice standards for brands that work with influencers, this suggests a serious engagement with the real power of social media, and one that is long overdue.

Aussie Broadband Battlers

YouTube content creation is a massive screen industry in its own right, and Australia has been home some major talent for these small but oh-so-watchable screens. From musicians to cooks to gamers to pranksters, Australia's influencers are been met with huge success. But online content creators working here also have a major infrastructural problem to contend with. When it comes to online content creation, Australia’s internet speeds are too poor to compete internationally. This year, Australia dropped to 62nd place in the global ranking of broadband speeds, a dismal placing that positions us far behind USA, England, China, Korea, Taiwan – and behind several developing countries.

Opportunities like Vidcon go some way to counteracting barriers Australian creators face, and to help keep creators – and the jobs they create – in Australia. While connecting Australian screen creatives with international networks and resources is worthwhile, it comes at a time when the screen industry is still reeling from federal funding cuts of $51.1 million over four years. In the short term this may provide opportunities, but it drains the already tiny pool of funding that homegrown productions have access to – funding that, if spent on Australian productions, would give screen professionals sustained work, and contribute to a more stable industry.

Australia’s online content creators are hampered by slow internet speeds and geographic distance from key industries. There’s a benefit to the industry in fomenting connections like those offered by VidCon, but seeing international productions dip into the meagre funding pool available to the Australian screen creators can be a bitter pill to swallow. The quality and success of Australian YouTubers and online screen creators prove that they’re worth investing in. Whether this is the right investment remains to be seen.

About the author

Jini Maxwell is a writer, poet and editor based in Narrm. They edit quarterly literary journal The Lifted Brow, and previously directed National Young Writers Festival. Both their poetry and prose engage with play, creative labour, and queerness. They have contributed critical writing to Screen Education, The Saturday Paper, ACCA online, Melbourne Knowledge Week's Stories platform, The Lifted Brow, and Melbourne Recital Centre's soundescapes. Their poetry has recently been published in Cordite Poetry Review, SCUM MAG, and Overland Journal. In 2018, they were one of three Emerging Critics in Residence at the Melbourne Recital Centre.