For YouTubers hoping to make it big, several VidCon panelists said signing with a multi-channel network (MCN) is a gamble.
MCNs are not affiliated with or endorsed by YouTube or Google. However, they are "entities that affiliate with multiple YouTube channels, often to offer assistance in areas such as product, programming, funding, cross-promotion, partner management, digital rights management, monetization/sales and/or audience development."
Over the past few years, the number of MCNs has increased, leading to a debate among the YouTube community over whether joining one is worth it.
"Some [MCNs] you have to be careful [that they] don't just replicate the old studio models and the old Hollywood models," said Rafi Fine, of Fine Brothers Entertainment on YouTube, at the "Do You Need a MCN?" panel on Friday.
Though Fine is currently happy in his contract with Fullscreen, he and other panelists emphasized that creators are often falsely promised services by MCNs that they never receive.
"You don't need networks, networks need you," said YouTuber and panelist Corey Vidal. "Their job is to make you like them … but what's in the contract is not really the conversation you were having."
Vidal was given a round of applause when he declared: "I'm a YouTuber and I'm not going anywhere else."
Panelist and YouTube user Molly Templeton, known online as "mememolly," agreed that MCN contracts can contain a lot of red flags.
With contracts, it's difficult to "understand the full extent of what you're signing," she said.
"Are you signing away your licensing rights?" she said. "Your merchandising rights? Are they going to manage you as a human being or just your videos online?"
Panelist Jim Louderback, general manager of Discovery Digital Networks, said the role of the MCN has changed over time, making it harder to determine the worth of being part of a MCN.
"Years one and two of VidCon, people would say: Why wouldn't you want to be part of a MCN?" he said at the convention's fifth gathering. "Now, you have to have a really good reason."
As YouTube has become more user-friendly, the incentives a MCN used to offer aren't as appealing or necessary -- especially now that it is easier to get ads on YouTube videos, panelists said.
However, panelist Michael Wayne, chief executive of DECA, said there are still many perks of joining a MCN.
"Our mantra is empowering creators to do what they love," he said. "Do what you love, we'll worry about the rest."
MCNs provide users the unique opportunity to have another community in addition to YouTube, he added.
Though the relationship between a creator and a MCN can be tough, Wayne joked, "it's like marriage -- it's never perfect but you try very hard if you think it's a good partnership."