A new wave of teens are becoming rich and famous by posting videos online. If you thought One Direction’s fans were dedicated, think again. Welcome to the world of YouTubers. I went along to the UK’s biggest YouTube gathering ever.
‘SUMMER in the City’ is an event organised by YouTubers, people who have developed cult-like followings by posting videos on the Internet, and is supported by YouTube itself. The two-day convention is a complete sell out as EIGHT THOUSAND fans flock to London’s Alexandra Palace.
It’s mid-morning and thousands of teenagers, largely female, are queuing around the venue, bursting with excitement before they get to meet and hang out with their online idols.
Cheers go up as the first fans are allowed into the building. Many of whom have travelled from far and wide to be a part of the exclusive event. Youngsters from Ireland and USA stop and tell me of their excitement of getting the chance to finally meet those they watch and communicate with on the net.
Journalist and YouTube comedian Clare Cullen, 25, tells me she’s here to pick up some tips from the best YouTubers on the planet. “At the moment YouTubing is just a hobby for me, I have a day job but all my spare time and weekends are spent working on videos to put online. The people here are the best at it so I’m hoping they can help me grow my online profile.”
YouTube now attracts a billion people to their site each month, with a mind-blowing 100 hours of footage uploaded EVERY MINUTE and as I’m quick to learn, the world’s best YouTubers are all attending Summer in the City is THE place to be for fans of the video sharing site.
Inside the venue fans, immediately pack out the Meet and Greet area in hope of a picture or selfie with their favourite internet sensation. The main hall has a grand main stage with YouTube comedians, singers and other performers entertaining vast numbers of screaming fans.
There’s also a gaming area for fans to watch others playing video games like Minecraft and Just Dance. It’s here I meet thrilled Oxford university student Rebecca Hannon, 19, who’s volunteering at the event. “I just applied to help out online because it was the only way to get a ticket – they sold out within hours!” She tells me.
The venue is now full The atmosphere in the main hall is jovial. My ears have taken an absolute pounding from the high pitch yelling and chanting of the fan girls.
Random teenagers are excitedly hugging each other. Having watched each other’s YouTube uploads online, many of these young super-fans recognise each other, yet are meeting for the first time. Groups of girls are gathered around iPads and smart phones, watching their favourite vloggers (video bloggers).
Vloggers speak about their own lives straight down the camera lens and into these teens’ bedrooms, usually about nothing in particular. The fans here know many of them so well thanks to their YouTube videos that they actually think of them as their friends.
A young girl asks me who my favourite vlogger is and I just stare blankly at her, having only just come across the term, and not being much of a YouTuber myself, I don’t know any. She walks away in disbelief. I now feel old and out of touch – I’m twenty six.
I head back to the Meet and Greet area to see if the crowds have died down enough for me to get a glimpse at the world’s most popular YouTubers. In fact, the crowds have doubled. “I’ve been queuing for two hours to meet Joey” shouts one agitated super-fan. She’s referring to Joey Graceffa, a daily vlogger, whose YouTube channel boasts over 1.7 million subscribers, amassing a staggering 119 million views. Not to mention over half a million followers on Twitter.
“We once went and sat in Starbucks for THREE HOURS waiting for Dan and Phil to show up because they said online they were going to get a coffee”
When he’s free from signing pictures and having his picture taken, I jump in and get a quick selfie with him, even though I’m still pretty clueless as to why he’s so popular.
Moving along the line I stop Jack & Finn, twin brothers whose latest vlog is Jack making a hat out of toilet paper and having a pillow fight with himself. A video which has been viewed by fans over a million times in little over a week.
It appears you don’t have to have a clear talent to make it big in the online world. Clearly not looking like their average fan, I explain to the lads I’m from a national newspaper and surprisingly they refuse to have their picture taken with me. Sighting the fact they’re unsure exactly what my article is about.
Last on the meet and greet conveyor belt are some A-list celebrities in the online universe, Dan and Phil. These chaps have grown so popular with their combined video views reaching close to 200million. They also have their own show on Radio1, thanks to their cult online following.
By this point girls are in TEARS as they go up and hug the guys, many leaving gifts for them after they’ve had their picture taken. Fans are running off screaming, “This is too much excitement for one day.” After meeting the guys (who were happy to be pictured with me) I’m still left baffled as to who they are, what they do or why they’ve become so famous.
How much money these YouTubers are earning from their successful videos is very much a taboo subject at this event. While uploading videos remains a hobby for most people here, some twenty-something’s are earning as much as SIX FIGURES thanks to their online fame, through advertising, sponsorship and endorsements.
Revenue is also earned by YouTubers with the merchandise on sale at Summer in the City. T-shirts and posters are rapidly being snapped up by fans. The most popular appears to be the Dan and Phil items among the young girls.
This must be one of the only places you’ll ever find a room full of thousands of teenage girls and not any of them talking about One Direction. The super-fans here are too busy chatting about their favourite videos to watch online or following each other on Twitter.
There’re plenty of wacky outfits on show on too. I meet a British YouTube star called Ja Son, 20, who stands out in the crowd with his luminous green Russell Brand style hair and tie-dye T shirt. Others are donning Facebook T shirts and YouTube T shirts. To those looking in, this is a very geeky crowd but from those inside the event, these are the coolest people around.
I nearly ask if anyone here has ever head of MSN Messenger, which was the big social network platform when I was a teen but I’m pretty sure I already look too old to be here.
There’s not a sad face in the vicinity either. With the exception of parents Jackie Stares, 53, and Ufuk Safa, 46, that is. Who, like the daughters that dragged them here, have randomly just met. They’re sat in the corner looking very bored. They are however, more than happy for their children to go off and mingle without any supervision at this convention, such is the friendly atmosphere in the room.
Going to fan events like this is nothing new for Safa and his daughter. “It was her day to choose what she wanted to do and she wanted to come and meet Dan and Phil. Not for the first time, though. We once went and sat in Starbucks for THREE HOURS waiting for Dan and Phil to show up because they said online they were going to get a coffee.” Alas, the online-famous duo never did show up on that occasion.
Atop of the double decker bus in the YouTube area of the main hall I catch up with event organiser and keen Vloger himself Tom Burns, 22. He tells me the growing popularity of the event hasn’t come as a surprise. “In 2009 100 people turned up and then the following year 300 people turned up. The year after that around 1,000 showed up. Then we knew we were on to something.”
This is the first time in the event’s five year history that fans have been charged for tickets. Burns explained, “When two thousand people packed out the venue last year, not charging for tickets was the biggest mistake we’d ever made! We had over another thousand people turned away too as there wasn’t enough room in the venue. This year we decided to go for the biggest venue we could get, and we’ve sold it out.”
Tickets for the two-day convention range from £12-£24 and sold out in a matter of hours. Even BEFORE a video publicising the event was posted on the site, word of mouth had spread like wildfire within the YouTube community and this was clearly the place to be this weekend.
Unlike most other gatherings in this famous venue the bars are eerily quiet. Instead, it’s the YouTube branded smoothie counter attracting the most customers. Even those old enough to buy alcohol aren’t interested. It just isn’t that sort of day. I haven’t heard or seen anybody interested in drinking alcohol. I on the other hand am gasping for a drink. Having been walking round for hours, I don’t seem to have the same energy levels as everyone else here.
Sadly, I’m yet to see a single newspaper or magazine at the venue. Times have changed drastically in a very short space of time.
There seems to be a lot of respect for each other within this strange community too. Sure they’re still very excitable and loud but unlike crazed boy band fans, these teens are well behaved and waiting patiently in line for a glimpse of their heroes.
Although, when a young fan spots famous YouTuber Jim Chapman buying a burger, a scrum of screaming girls rush over to get close to him.
As the eight hour gathering draws to a close I’m left feeling exhausted, older than my years and way out of touch. Until today I’d never heard of the people here that our younger generation look up to and idolise. I didn’t even know people were uploading daily videos talking about their own lives. The idea of that still seems weird to me, yet for thinking like that I’m the odd one out here.
This convention provides the perfect place for youngsters to interact with others they’ve spoken to online in a safe and friendly environment. But parents be warned: If you show up too, you’re banned by your kids from speaking to anyone because that’s just not cool.