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Within minutes of walking into the Anaheim Convention Center on Thursday, I found my path blocked by a teen filming a TikTok dance—the first of many I saw throughout the day.
TikTok’s fingerprints are all over VidCon, the 12-year-old annual convention centered around the booming creator economy and ever-growing realm of digital video content. That was evidenced by the teens wearing TikTok couture and the Culver City-based company’s new role as the event’s official sponsor. So many creators wore bright pink ensembles that one might have thought they’d stumbled onto the set of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” movie.
And yet, many of the TikTok creators who have actually made it to the big screen—or at least parlayed their success on handheld devices into bigger, more lucrative platforms—were notably absent. Sure, the two creators currently racing for the most TikTok followers—Charli D’Amelio and Khaby Lame—both had scheduled events at VidCon this week, as did Brittany Broski. But the likes of Addison Rae, Loren Gray and Bryce Hall are among the big viral names who have opted to skip the proceedings.
At a panel that explored TikTok’s impact on the entertainment industry at large, Bryan Thoensen, the company’s head of content partnerships, noted that more creators are seeking opportunities outside of the app—with Hollywood agencies and production studios alike looking to tap into this growing talent pool.
“These entities are constantly asking, ‘Who’s on the precipice? Who’s next?’” Thoensen said. “We work very closely with helping those creators to springboard into the next big thing for them.”
Thoensen cited Tabitha Brown, who signed with CAA in 2020 and released a book last year, as emblematic of the heights that TikTok creators can reach—and sure enough, Brown isn’t attending this year’s TikTok-branded VidCon. Neither are Emily Uribe or Juju Green, whom the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ vice president of digital marketing, Meryl Johnson, credited on Thursday for the success of TikTok’s Oscars red carpet livestream this year. In fact, only a few of the TikTok stars name-dropped throughout the panel, such as Reece Feldman, had planned VidCon appearances.
With major entertainment industry stakeholders like the Academy now elevating TikTokers to larger platforms—and TikTok itself helping to forge such connections, according to Thoensen—it’s no surprise that many of the app’s top creators are now looking beyond TikTok, especially given its relatively limited monetization opportunities. So while investors are eyeing the creator economy closer than ever, it appears many TikTokers are now looking beyond the world of VidCon for their “next big thing.” — Kristin Snyder
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The creator economy is the bedrock of this week’s VidCon convention, which is drawing creators, companies, investors and fans alike to Anaheim to discuss the rapidly growing realm of digital content and entertainment.
To discuss how investors, in particular, are viewing the booming creator landscape, Thursday’s “Betting Big on the Creator Economy” panel featured the likes of MaC Venture Capital partner Zhenni Liu, Investcorp managing director Anand Radhakrishnan, Team8 Fintech managing partner Yuval Tal and Paladin co-founder and CEO James Creech.
Liu said that her Los Angeles-based VC firm is paying closer attention to the influence that creators are having on how consumers spend their time and money. She cited the recent “healthy Coke” viral trend, in which people mix balsamic vinegar and seltzer water as a soda alternative, as an example—citing how the number of people who have viewed the original TikTok video that set off the craze surpasses the Coca-Cola TikTok account’s number of followers.
This growing influence stems from the surging number of creators, Radhakrishnan said. With the pandemic forcing many to reconsider their career paths, he said people now view content creation as a legitimate professional route—quipping that these days, more children want to be YouTube stars than astronauts.
“As an older person, I thought this was the downfall of Western civilization,” the Investcorp managing director said. “At the end of the day, I think it reflects that this is real—and as an investor, we’re looking at ways to invest in the next great economies.”
Creech said that the growing creator sector rests on three main pillars: content creation, audience growth and monetization. The constant evolution of creator platforms does present a challenge for investors, however, with Liu noting that more creators are looking to Web3 as an alternative to traditional outlets often offering a smaller slice of revenues.
“As a result, we’re seeing creators who can’t figure out how to build their audience, monetize and distribute,” Liu said. “With Web3, this opens up a new opportunity. There's a lot of chaos, but chaos provides the opportunity for creators to rise up.”
Additionally, the shift toward short-form content means that more investment dollars will be redirected away from longer-form shows and films, Tal observed. And even with an increasingly likely recession on the horizon—one that already appears to be hitting the creator economy, as well as the wider tech, startup and venture capital sectors—Tal and the other panelists remained optimistic about the creator economy’s prospects moving forward.
“It is almost winter-agnostic,” Tal said. “The shift [toward the creator economy] is so massive that no [economic] winter can slow it down.”
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VidCon 2021 has been canceled because of heightened concerns over COVID-19 and the Delta variant and California's health and safety mandates.
The influencer industry's biggest event of the year had been scheduled for Oct. 22-24 at the Anaheim Convention Center. It would have marked TikTok's first year as the top sponsor, taking over the long-held title from YouTube.
"We were so confident that we'd be able to put on the VidCon you know and love this October and could not wait to reconnect with all of IRL," VidCon General Manager Jim Louderback said in a statement. "Unfortunately, due to the recent increases in COVID-19 cases and evolving health and safety mandates, we have come to the difficult but right decision to cancel VidCon this October. We just can't risk the health and safety of our attendees, creators, speakers, sponsors and staff — and we want to ensure we provide EVERYONE with the very best VidCon experience."
California's Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that people attending indoor events with 1,000 or more people must provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from within the prior 72 hours, starting Sept. 20.
The convention, which would have been in its 11th year, has been rescheduled for June 22-25, 2022 in Anaheim.
In 2019, VidCon's events attracted about 75,000 people and 120 brand exhibitors.
Anaheim spokesperson Lauren Gold said that convention brought an estimated $47 million into the city, including on hotel stays, shopping and dining or even visits to Disneyland and California Adventure.
The city expected more than 30,000 convention goers to attend this year.
"We are disappointed VidCon 2021 isn't going forward but understand their decision," Gold said in a statement. "VidCon brings excitement, energy, creativity and fun to our city. But, more than that, events such as these are critical for Anaheim's economic recovery. We look forward to hosting VidCon 2022 in June."
VidCon is an event that brings together online influencers and the viewers who engage with their content. It gives creators the opportunity to mingle with executives in entertainment and technology and to negotiate brand deals.
Since its last in-person conference, influencers have only become a hotter commodity. At least 10 social media platforms including Snap, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube have built funds to lure in creators as they battle it out for talent. TikTok's fund is set to grow to about $1 billion.
Typically taking place in the summer, the event in 2020 had been scheduled for June, but was canceled three months earlier at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
With TikTok taking over from YouTube as a brand sponsor, some said that it represented a symbolic shift in the social media landscape demonstrating TikTok's rise in popularity among content creators.In response to questions from Buzzfeed as to whether TikTok will remain a title sponsor in 2022, VidCon told the news outlet it will "be sure to share sponsorship and programming updates in the near future."
Correction: An earlier version misstated the amount of attendees expected.
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