A looming recession did little to damper the buoyant mood at VidCon, the annual conference for creators, their fans and industry professionals, which wrapped up on Saturday in Anaheim, Calif.. Attendees schmoozed at cocktail parties and stood in hours-long lines to be lowered via a harness into a giant pool full of soft plush toys called Squishmallows. Others headed to a pop-up put on by YouTube Shorts and MrBeast that included a 40-foot gumball machine that spit out prizes ranging from candy to Nintendo Switches. Plenty of people showed off choreographed dance moves outside the convention center and went to late-night parties, including an event hosted by Amazon Prime Video featuring an hour-long private concert from The Chainsmokers.
While VidCon provided a brief escape from the real world, it wasn’t totally immune from talk about the worsening economy. The topic came up on a panel I moderated with Amron Lopez, senior talent manager at creator commerce and talent firm Whalar, Megan Frantz, talent manager at Whalar, and Eric Wei, co-founder of Karat Financial, a financial startup offering corporate credit cards for creators.
VidCon kicked off on Wednesday evening, with welcome receptions, social media-worthy spaces for creators to hang out and excited teen fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite influencer.
My first stop was Meta Platforms’ creator lounge, a private space for creators to hang out–and of course take photos and shoot Reels. Instagram-worthy backdrops were everywhere, from a pool area decked out in luminescent inflatables to a gallery displaying NFT artwork.
If you attended this year’s NFT NYC conference, you wouldn’t think we’re knee-deep in a crypto crash. Lines to register at the Marriott Marquis at Times Square wrapped around the block and snaked up five floors of the hotel on Tuesday. NFT enthusiasts, tech employees and digital artists, who paid at least $599 for general admission tickets, told me they waited at least 40 minutes to enter their first event. Around 15,000 people registered for the conference and parties, affiliated events and meetups that came with it, according to the conference organizers.
It’s a busy week for conferences touching various areas of the creator economy, from advertising at the Cannes Lions Festival in France to crypto topics at NFT NYC and, of course, the Super Bowl of the influencer industry, VidCon in Anaheim, Calif. While I’m at VidCon, my colleague Mark Di Stefano is on the ground in Cannes and Mahira Dayal is hobnobbing with the NFT crowd.
A somber reality hanging over all of these conferences: how a potential recession will set back the creator economy, which has been on a tear during the pandemic. Most creators rely on sponsorship deals with brands as their top revenue sources. Advertisers often scale back during economic downturns, although it’s still unclear to what extent they’ll lower their spending on influencers.
“We are in uncertain economic times right now. There are questions about [a] recession and brands spending on marketing,” said Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. “We don’t have a perfect lens on it yet.”
Some venture capital firms are experimenting with TikTok as a marketing tool to reach people in their mid-20s. Maitree Mervana Parekh, 29, a principal at Acrew Capital, sees it differently: As a way to portray her interests outside work and experience what it means to be a creator, which she says gives her a deeper understanding of founders and companies in the creator economy.
Parekh has co-led deals for Acrew, which was founded in 2019 by Aspect Ventures co-founder Theresia Gouw. Parekh’s deals include startups in The Information’s Creator Economy Database such as Creative Juice, Afterparty and Pools.