Meet global media and technology leader, Jim Louderback, the CEO of VidCon, formerly CEO of Revision3, TV host of TechTV, and Editor-In-Chief of PC Magazine.
VidCon is a globetrotting multi-genre video conference originally conceived by Hank and John Green of the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel, and currently organized by ViacomCBS, the media company behind MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Paramount Plus, and more.
So how did this math geek get to where he is now running a global video communication and media events company that has millions of fans, creators, online stars, and industry representatives worldwide vying to be part of?
“Early on in my career, I ran an online video network on YouTube and other digital networks, got into tech and gaming, and always thought we should have an event based on online videos,” Jim told AMEinfo from San Francisco (SF).
So if you’re part of the global digital video craze, as a fan, YouTube star, or B2B industry influencer, you want to hear what Jim has to say about VidCon, its growth, the shows in Amsterdam, London, Mexico, Brazil and Singapore and now its newest destination to Abu Dhabi this coming December 2021.
VidCon: A eureka moment with mass appeal
VidCon started in 2010 in a dingy old hotel basement in LA when John and Hank, aka Vlog Brothers, realized they needed events to bring those early creators on YouTube, together with their fans.
“I knew Hank, so I came in and spoke at their first event, and over the next 5 years, we went from attracting 1,400 people in LA to amassing 20,000-30,000 people at the Anaheim Convention Center,” Jim starts.
“I started building the ‘Industry Track’ between 2014-2015 where the online industry would come every year to know how better to build a business, find creators, find out what are the hot platforms or where was all of this going.”
That year, VidCon also launched the ‘Creator Track’ and things started to really take off from there. VidCon became three separate events rolled into one: a festival, conference, and summit.
Like most events, the business made revenues from ticket sales, sponsorships, and merchandising.
“During the festival, we got fans in front of their favorite creators, for performances, meet and greet, discussions and basically connecting with each other,” says Jim.
The conference was all about the ‘Creator Track’ to attract YouTubers but also other video creators on Facebook, Snap, Instagram, and TikTok.
“The ‘Creator Track’ was to help people in their teens or 20s become YouTube, Facebook or Instagram stars, when research said at the time that teens wanted to be YouTube stars and TikTokers,” explains Jim.
“You didn’t need to go to Hollywood or London to be famous. You could do it from anywhere and with creativity distributed around the world, and the ability of people to build audiences and communities and a life out of it, was all emerging in 2015 and 2016.”
Finally, the ‘Industry Track’ summit was all about the B2B side of the growing trend.
VidCon goes global
So far, VidCon had been an American, California-based operation but in 2016/17 many people were telling the Green Brothers to take the company global because it could galvanize creators all over the world and celebrate their magic in real life.
In 2017, VidCon launched in Australia and Amsterdam for Europe and Jim built the industry track there.
Halfway through 2017, Hank asked Jim to become CEO and a few months later Viacom CBS (aka Viacom) bought VidCon with the goal to expand in the US and internationally.
“We moved from Amsterdam to London and started planning events in Mexico, Singapore, and Brazil. We had great plans to roll out in many other places, and then COVID-19 hit after a show in London in February 2020,” says Jim.
COVID-19 and VidCon’s digital transformation
VidCon ended up canceling or postponing events as COVID-19 forced the cancellation of a myriad of events around the globe.
“We looked at the digital side of it, but my experience with digital transformation is that you can’t just replicate what you do in one medium and stick it on a digital medium and expect the same results,” reveals Jim.
“But we decided to reconnect with our audiences during the summer of 2020, with multiple smaller events a week, initially for the US but we ended up doing it globally and getting millions of unique visitors from 140 countries around the world.”
The company realized the power to connect even if it could not do events.
“We also do things for our fans as well. We created a 24/7 audio-based online community, where anybody can go out there to mix it up with creators in sessions called AMA *ask me anything*,” says Jim.
In the fall of 2020, when VidCon started planning live events for 2021, it decided to keep doing weekly half-hour to 1-hour digital sessions, roundtables, meet and greet with stars and vloggers, in addition to talent workshops, in order to continue engaging with audiences.
“For reasons related to time, health, money, or others, if people can’t get to live events, they can engage with the brand digitally. However, we are now looking at organizing physical events in 5 different countries later this year, and actively including Abu Dhabi this December,” announces Jim.
He calls this a URL and IRL (In real life) strategy.
He adds: “Industry content and creator workshops are so valuable that we will record them and share them via an annual subscription.”
Why Abu Dhabi?
“Abu Dhabi is a great place to do something like this,” says Jim.
“The event will take place at the ADNEC facility, and we share many common things with TwoFour54 free media zone, with whom we are working.”
Over a 4-day event, VidCon will bring over 200 of the top creators and industry expert speakers to Abu Dhabi, split equally between internationally and the MENA region.
“We will take the creators on excursions, build great experiences at the hotel, and allow local and international creators to connect and collaborate,” says Jim.
Jim estimates tickets will roughly be in the $35-$100 on the fans’ side, $100-$150 on the creators’ side, and $400-$600 on the industry side, apart from special pricing for early bird participants.
The event aims at attracting 25,000 people or more.
The company is focusing on building the Middle East region from Abu Dhabi where Saudis, Kuwaitis, and other regional creators can be within a few hours travel time depending on the means of transport.
To keep track of this event, the company provided this hashtag #VidConAbuDhabi.