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VidCon, the annual video star convention, has gotten so big it's expanding globally

VidCon, the annual gathering of online video stars and their rollicking fans, is going global, underscoring the explosive rise of online video around the world.

The digital video conference, which will kick off its seventh event Thursday in Anaheim, will expand overseas next year, holding events in the Netherlands capital of Amsterdam and in Melbourne, Australia.

The international expansion reflects the global popularity of YouTube, Vine and other emerging online video platforms, and the far-reaching recognition of digital stars who often are more popular among young consumers than mainstream celebrities.

Hank Green, who founded VidCon with his brother and “Fault in Our Stars” author John Green in 2010, cited the high penetration of international views of videos on YouTube, the title sponsor of the U.S. conference. About 80% of all YouTube views come from outside the United States.

“These places have their own stars, and they also love some of the same stuff that's popular in the States,” Hank Green told the Los Angeles Times. “We want VidCon to foster and connect the creative community in other places the way it has here in America.”

Once a peripheral conference for online celebrities and their fans, VidCon has grown into an increasingly important forum for Hollywood studios and other companies to market to hard-to-reach young consumers, much in the way Comic-Con or SXSW have become part of the major promotional machine.

"VidCon started out as just a vloggers’, [or video bloggers’], convention, but it’s grown into so much more than that,” said Paul Verna, senior analyst for eMarketer.

New exhibitors and sponsors for this year’s conference include 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Netflix, among others. And after making its VidCon debut last year, Universal Pictures will return to screen its upcoming animated film “The Secret Life of Pets.” 

Other non-entertainment VidCon sponsors this year include AOL, Mars Inc., Calvin Klein, Hasbro and Samsung. 

“If you’re trying to get [consumers] excited about a line of apparel or a new movie, how do you get in front of them?” said Brent Weinstein, the head of digital media at United Talent Agency, which handles VidCon sponsorships and exhibitor deals.

Hank Green said serious talks and planning for expanding VidCon began about a year ago, just after the 2015 symposium. Initial consideration was given to expanding the online video forum within the United States, with New York as a possibility. But organizers instead opted to plant their flag overseas, catering to growing online communities in and around Europe and Australia.

“VidCon in Anaheim is very special and I don’t want to lose that,” Hank Green said. “I never felt the need to do more in the U.S.”

About 10% of attendees from last year’s conference were from outside the United States. The international events become a more budget-friendly alternative for non-U.S. attendees who can’t afford to go to Anaheim.

The Amsterdam conference, which is meant to serve people from across Europe, will take place at the Amsterdam RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre on April 8 and 9.  

The Melbourne conference, which is expected to draw fans from the region, including surrounding countries with large YouTube communities such as the Philippines, is slated to take place at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on Sept. 9 and 10.

VidCon is still in talks with YouTube to have the video platform serve as the title sponsor for the two events the way it is in the United States.

Both events will focus on local talent, but established U.S.-based creators are also invited to attend. Each conference is expected to attract about 7,500 attendees — a third of what the stateside conference now attracts. 

It’s quite the growth spurt for a conference that, like many of the online personalities it features, got its start in a basement with ambitions for more. 

The first conference was held in 2010 in the basement of a Hyatt in Los Angeles, where a modest 1,400 people attended.

By 2012, it had moved to the Disneyland-adjacent Anaheim Convention Center to better accommodate its growing popularity, particularly among teens and young adults. About 25,000 people are expected to pack the site for this year’s three-day conference that bills itself “for people who love online video.”

Many VidCon attendees pay up to $150 each to attend the conference primarily to meet and network with their favorite YouTube stars, such as Meg DeAngelis, whose channel has more than 5 million followers.

The digital video creators, meanwhile, benefit from hobnobbing with brand representatives and educating themselves on various online video practices.

This year’s conference, which runs Thursday through Saturday, features panels on how to read a contract and what it takes to build an audience, as well as keynotes and presentations from executives such as YouTube Chief Executive Susan Wojcicki and MTV President Sean Atkins. 

And while YouTube -- which is home to a lion’s share of the digital creators participating in the conference -- has long had the video market to itself, other platforms have increased their presence in recent years.

VidCon has steadily looked at the future of online video beyond the kingpin. Various other platforms that have gained prominence in the online video space, including Facebook, have been ramping up their presence at the event.

“We think of video as an industry,” said Jamie Byrne, YouTube’s director of creators. “In the same way that television has been an industry, our company alone does not drive an industry forward. It’s really validating that other video players see the power in this space.”

Andy Forssell, the chief operating officer at Fullscreen, one of YouTube's biggest video networks that is returning as a sponsor for the sixth year, said the conference remains the “beating heart” of the online video community. 

“Brands want to be there,” he said. “It's a very influential audience."

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