The big debate over net neutrality has some YouTube stars fearing that the end of the world is near.
The online community has been in a dither about the future of a regulatory provision that Internet service providers treat all traffic the same. The Federal Communications Commission is in the process of rewriting the rules, and some worry that a proposal may be approved to create a fast lane for data.
This worries vloggers like Vi Hart and Emily Eifler, who make a living uploading videos and other content to YouTube. They appeared together on a panel titled “Our Biggest Fear: The End of Net Neutrality” at VidCon’s annual convention in Anaheim.
“I think one of the weird effects of net neutrality that affects my daily life is Internet speeds,” said Hart, whose 11-minute video on the hot-button issue has tallied more than 500,000 views. “Just uploading a video … when I have to wait 13 hours for a simple video to upload that is a symptom of problems.”
Eifler, who runs the educational tech channel BlinkPopShift, stressed that the fast-lane rules would put those without bulging pockets at a disadvantage. She said it threatens competition, using the example of wanting to start a new video platform but not having the resources of YouTube-owner Google, which might have the money to pay a cable company for faster Internet speeds.
“That would mean that only people who pay for Comcast service and people who wanted to watch YouTube videos would get much faster service than, say, my little video start-up platform,” she said. “That just means any creator who wants to get stuff uploaded quickly would automatically go to YouTube and wouldn’t be able to put content on other platforms. Meaning that those platforms would mathematically be less likely to get more viewers.”
Michael Weinberg, vice president at Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit public interest group involved with tech policy issues, said activation among the video community — creators and consumers — is key. Weinberg said Public Knowledge is working on assembling a form of YouTuber action with plans for a site to coordinate people.
“People who are in the FCC don’t understand what is happening,” Weinberg said. “People in the FCC are maybe aware of Netflix and have probably been forwarded a cat video on YouTube, but have no concept of the scale … no one in Washington sees you coming. If you come together and act together, there’s a lot of push there. And it will be a lot of push going against an undefended client.”
The three-day VidCon convention is expected to draw about 18,000 people, including online video stars, studios and Hollywood agents.
Also at the convention, another panel addressed how online content providers can get corporate backing.
With the huge fan bases that online stars amass, brands such as Ford, RedBull and L’Oreal are increasingly turning to online video talent to forge new followers.
But the dynamic between independent video makers and large brands can get strained. That’s because the creators are often more loyal to their audiences than the brand.
When the brand doesn’t meld with the creator, it’s “like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” said Jeremy Scott of CinemaSins, the popular YouTube channel devoted to joking about movie flaws. About 2.4 million people subscribe to CinemaSins.
“Brands have to find content that is thematically tied to the same audience that they’re trying to reach,” said Luke Simmons, director of branded content for Electus Digital. Electus owns and operates a number of channels and websites including CollegeHumor.com.
Devin Graham said video creators have total allegiance to their audiences.
Graham’s YouTube channel “DevinSuperTramp” has more than 2 million subscribers. It focuses on off-beat outdoor activities such as putting a slip-and-slide on the side of a cliff.
“My audience is more important than any brand I’m ever going to get,” he said. If a brand’s idea of content doesn’t mesh with what his audience likes, “it’s not worth the risk.”
Graham said brands and creators have to find a middle ground. To do that, creators have to be upfront from the onset about making content that will keep their audience happy, he said.
“That way it won’t feel like a commercial, and it will be real for an audience of YouTubers,” Graham said. “Social media people want it to feel authentic and real.”
Staff writer Saba Hamedy contributed to this story.