VidCon 2014: Branded content sparks debate once more

VidCon 2014: Branded content sparks debate once more
YouTube stars Rhett James McLaughlin and Link Neal from "Rhett & Link." (YouTube)

The thinning, tenuous line forming between branded YouTube content and traditional television commercials was once again the subject of debate at a VidCon panel Saturday at the Anaheim Convention Center.

On one hand, the star-studded YouTube panel believed brands support the creation of content. On the other hand, some panelists expressed a desire for a future where content can be sustained without much advertising. But whether that future can become a reality is a toss-up, and much of it depends on the fans.

"'Good Mythical Morning' is sustainable without brand integration," said Rhett James McLaughlin of "Rhett & Link," a YouTube channel with more than 2 million subscribers. "Good Mythical Morning" has a separate channel with 2.5 million subscribers and is a weekday morning talk show.

"I am very interested in our future not being as tied to brands," said Link Neal, the other half of the duo.

But Ze Frank, executive vice president of video at, said the futures of online video was inextricably tied to brands.

"Couldn't we imagine a future where brands understand there's value in serving audiences great content?" Frank said. "There's people recognizing that brand integration is a part of life. I think there is a future where both sides get served."

However, Frank added, over-branded content has "little to no cultural value," and is "degrading that future."

And audiences play a big role in defending the integrity of content, McLaughlin said.

"If we say we're going to make content that looks like a crappy television show, the audience won't like it," he said. "So the traditional content is protected in some ways by the audience."

Craig Benzine of the popular "WheezyWaiter" YouTube channel said the "Rhett & Link" channel was a good example of how integrated branding can work.

"I think people are afraid that when people do branded content it will become television commercials," Benzine said. "While it's gross and disgusting to see people reciting script for a brand, it's not so bad for someone like Rhett and Link to just integrate. That's where things are going, but neither are going away."

Twitter: @madeline_oh