Three key takeaways from VidCon 2018

Credit: Twitter — @AlexShibutani

This year’s VidCon felt more multi-platform than ever before. Just a couple of years ago it was pretty much entirely YouTube’s domain but this year there was significant presence from all the big guns. Instagram, Facebook, Twitch, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Pinterest all joined YouTube in hosting panels (of varying quality and insight it must be said) and many of the platforms made major announcements at their keynotes.

Amongst all the bluster there we a few things that really stood out. Here are the three things you need to do right now, stop doing immediately, and keep an eye on for the future.

Do it now.

9:16 is here to stay, get over it. I know this will be unpopular amongst my filmmaker friends, but we need to have a shift in attitude when it comes to aspect ratios. It’s time to stop begrudgingly re-versioning 16:9 into 9:16 and start considering portrait from the outset. I know the arguments — ‘how hard is it to just turn your phone around?’, ‘the camera is designed to be held like this’, ‘the earth is flat’ and so on — and they are undeniably good arguments. But it’s time to face facts — platform preference and user behaviour has won and IGTV will only reenforce that.

Rather than considering 9:16 as an ‘additional deliverable’ we need to start commissioning, conceiving and producing in these ratios on every single thing we do. No more handing over a made-for-TV ad spot to the editors and asking them to crowbar your beautifully crafted creation into a ratio in which it simply doesn’t fit. You need to be creating bespoke content or shooting your content in a manner that allows for both. Shoot it twice if you have to!

Research from our Trailer Park team here in LA has found that 59% of consumers “find it annoying to turn their phone horizontally”. 35% actually lock their phone in vertical mode! Digital media consumption is outstripping TV, the majority of that is on mobile and the majority of that is with the phone held portrait. Seriously, what more rationale do you need?

Takeaway: This should be obvious, but unless you have a very good reason not to, every digital content brief should be equally weighted between 9:16 and 16:9.

Stop it now.

VR and 360. Seriously. I barely heard a peep about this at VidCon all week. I certainly see its value for PR and experiential, (the Star Wars hyper-reality experience at Disney is seriously fucking cool BTW), but if you’re in the business of reaching and engaging audiences with online video, then it might be worth handing this hot potato over to another team.

I asked some people about the presence, or lack thereof, of VR at VidCon, and the consensus response was generally a big shrug. One guy from a major distributor, who I’m assuming would rather remain nameless, told me “I get it for gaming and porn, but it’s not for us”.

Gone, I hope, are the days when we get briefs which ask us to ‘make some 360 videos’. Bring on the days where we get briefs saying ‘tell this story for us in the most appropriate format’.

Takeaway: Storytelling is still key, VR doesn’t have scale and likely never will, so let’s not be too bothered about it. For now.

Keep an eye on it.

Platform homogeneity. So, YouTube have launched a thing a bit like Instagram Stories and Instagram have launched a thing a bit like YouTube. Facebook is investing in episodic content and longer-form, and so are YouTube, and LinkedIn(!?). And Twitter and Snapchat are trying to woo creators like YouTube have done for years and Skype have got a creators thingy that, I think, is a bit like Twitch, but I can’t be too sure, and YouTube now have Premieres which is basically ATV, and Facebook have something similar and so on and so forth.

Put simply, everyone is starting to look a bit YouTubey but with their own little USPs. That’s great for audiences but it makes for a bit of a clusterfuck for creators and publishers. Where do we focus? Do we need to do all these things? Why is that Brand Partnerships person from that other social video platform camped on my lawn?

One major advantage that YouTube still has is a very mature and developed Content ID system and monetisation model. Twitter asking you to put all your videos on their platform because ‘Hey, #engagement right?!’ is all very well and good, but man’s gotta get that paper, so don’t expect a big exodus away from YouTube anytime soon. But do expect every new content brief to be a lot more multi-platform and a lot more complicated.

I’m not going to outline a full content strategy for you here because (a) we charge for that kind of thing and (b) it’s entirely bespoke to your business needs, but it’s worth just expecting that it’s going to be a bit of a bunfight between the platforms for a while as they compete for the attention of content creators. So just be cautious, don’t get drawn into putting all your eggs in one basket and, of course, always interrogate the ROI.

Action: With so much overlap between platforms, content strategy is more important than ever. I know, I would say that, but seriously — make sure you account for it in every brief.

Without going too hard-sell — digital-first video creators with bags of experience in advertising, TV and film? Expert storytellers? Content strategy at the heart of everything we do? Hey! That sounds remarkably like us. So get in touch if you’re looking for all these things and more —




Strategist / Creative at ENGINE. Ex @BBCEarth & @BBC_TopGear. Informed opinion on TV and digital things. Ill-informed hyperbole on rugby and football.

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Leo Birch

Leo Birch

Strategist / Creative at ENGINE. Ex @BBCEarth & @BBC_TopGear. Informed opinion on TV and digital things. Ill-informed hyperbole on rugby and football.

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