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About 18,000 video content creators, viral video stars and their fans are expected to pack the Anaheim Convention Center for the fifth annual VidCon.
The three-day conference, which kicked off Thursday, features everything from panels featuring YouTube stars such as
The attendees — mostly teens and young adults armed with smartphones and video cameras — greeted one another in the convention halls with ice breakers such as "Do you have a channel?" and "OMG! I subscribe to you!"
Crowds lined up outside the ballroom as early as 9 a.m. to hear VidCon founders John and Hank Green (known as "VlogBrothers" on YouTube) introduce the conference and speakers such as Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.
"I find this world of short-form video is such an amazing place to create laughter," Katzenberg told the crowd.
When VidCon began in 2010, the conference took place at a smaller venue in Los Angeles and drew in about 1,400 attendees. This year, it occupies two halls at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The growth in popularity is a testament to the success of online video content, especially among younger people who use websites as creative outlets to video blog (vlog) or follow their favorite online personas. Viewers tend to skew younger, which is a prime audience for advertisers.
The amount of money being spent on digital video advertising is growing fast. In 2013, digital video ads hit $4.2 billion — and that number is expected to reach nearly $6 billion this year.
Meanwhile, the number of people posting online videos is rising at an eye-popping rate. In 2006, only 7% of 16- to 34-year-olds created online content, and that number has jumped to 77% today, according to one industry executive. That same age bracket is watching an average of 500 videos a month.
The Green brothers came up with the idea for the convention after going on a small tour around the U.S. for their YouTube fans. Though Hank Green said he knew their YouTube channel had fans, it wasn't until about 80 people showed up at a small library in Michigan to see the duo that he realized the magnitude of their viewership.
"It was shocking so many people showed up to see us," Green said. "We absolutely knew we wanted to create something for our audiences and everyone else's audiences because there was a desire for it."
And because Los Angeles is the "geographical center" for YouTubers, Green said it was an obvious choice for the conference's location.
"I think [online video content] is a huge cultural phenomenon that no one can take credit for or explain or understand," Green said. "We're all just sort of watching it happen and trying to reflect it and ride along with it in the most effective ways we can."
Many VidCon-goers attend the conference primarily to meet and network with their favorite YouTube stars such as Tyler Oakley, whose channel has over 4.6 million subscribers.
Oakley, who began his YouTube channel in 2007 as a way to stay in touch with friends, now makes a living as a successful full-time vlogger. He's known as an advocate for LBGT rights, and comments often on politics and pop culture. His YouTube page description reads, "Here you'll find plenty sassiness and beauty and fabulousness!"
"I realized that more and more people were watching," Oakley told The Times in an interview.
"From that, I discovered that YouTube had a community and there were ways to build an audience," he said, "and experience something that was bigger than a fun hobby."
This is his fourth VidCon and his second time as a special guest. Now, Oakley said it's difficult walking around at the convention center without a fan stopping him for a photo, autograph or just to chat.
"Traditional celebrities get that everywhere they go. … A YouTuber can kind of walk around a bit in everyday life," he said. "But when you take the super fans of all super fans and put them in one convention center it kind of changes the entire feel of what you do. It's crazy to see that much excitement surrounding creators but it's the coolest thing in the world."
Attendee Danielle Acosta, 19, was so excited for her first VidCon that she began a countdown on her iPhone nine months ago and delayed her back surgery to later this summer.
"My surgeons laughed at me when I told them to push it back to July," the Palm Springs native joked. Though the aspiring cinematographer is not a vlogger herself, she said she enjoys being part of the community of YouTube viewers.
"I like it because we're not just people behind the computer," she said. "We're a group that comes together with a lot in common."
Sina Bormuller traveled from Berlin to attend the convention for the first time. The 22-year-old's channel, FräuleinChaos2012, has more than 86,000 subscribers.
"It's absolutely amazing to be here and to see the people that you only know from their videos," she said. "It's so weird and cool."