How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

A next-gen expert views YouTube

August 14, 2013: 9:15 AM ET

A teenage "YouTube disciple" dissects television, VidCon, and fangirls.


On a panel about TV's future at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in July, NBC Universal (CMCSA) exec Lauren Zalaznick said that she was planning to take her teenage daughter, Ada, to VidCon, the world's largest video convention. Guessing that Ada Dolan-Zalaznick could be as brainy and culturally aware as her mom, I asked Ada if she would want to write about her takeaways from VidCon. She jumped at the assignment. So, while my colleague Miguel Helft's current Fortune cover story, "How YouTube Changes Everything," is a brilliant adult dissection of the video revolution, consider Ada's Guest Post another expert view from the next generation.

by Ada Dolan-Zalaznick

When my parents asked me what I wanted for my 18th birthday, I gave them an answer that would surprise just about anyone close to their age. I told them that I wanted to go to VidCon.

If you're of a certain age and don't know VidCon, it's a bit like Comic Con, that behemoth of a convention that takes place in San Diego every summer. What Comic Con is to for comic and graphic novel fans, VidCon is to YouTube lovers.

I'm more than a YouTube lover. I'm a YouTube disciple—the daughter of a TV executive who believes that YouTube (GOOG) is poised to change the world.

So, in early August with my mo, I went to VidCon in Anaheim, California. I came back with insights that you might actually find useful—and if you read on, you'll at least be able to impress your tech-savvy and hipster friends who didn't think you understood YouTube.

YouTube is my generation's TV. YouTube is not just the home of sneezing pandas and Gangnam Style. If you create a YouTube account, you'll see that YouTube suggests you subscribe to YouTube channels. These channels are filled with amazing, weird, and funny content that has, in some cases, amassed audiences comparable to some cable television shows. The YouTube culture is about hanging out. It probably seems ironic to you that 12,000 people trekked to the Anaheim Convention Center this year, given that it's so easy to watch our favorite YouTubers on our smartphones and other digital devices. But coming together live and in person makes sense because we are all about sharing content. "Fans are creators and creators are fans," wrote VidCon co-founder John Green in a blog post following this year's convention. "We've lived for so long in a world made up of those who make stuff that gets watched and those who watch stuff. That's no longer the case."

I went to VidCon to see the YouTubers I love to watch talk on panels. One panel about the importance (or, as it turned out, un-importance) of YouTube stars living and working in Los Angeles included Shay Carl, a YouTuber who's amassing an empire of channels, and Burnie Burns, a hero of mine who founded an incredibly popular gaming site called Rooster Teeth, with a YouTube channel of the same name. VidCon reflects the relationship that vloggers (video bloggers) try to foster with their audience: a place where, no matter how big a channel gets, you always get to feel like you're hanging out with your friends.

YouTube fits with TV. As the popularity of YouTube channels rises, it would be utter foolishness for mainstream media to ignore YouTube shows and the audiences they reach. Wisely, YouTube creators are making web shows that follow in the footsteps of traditional television, with some wrinkles. For example, My Music, a YouTube show in the sitcom vein created by YouTubers The Fine Bros. is doing incredible things with transmedia, a term that refers to the integration of many different types of media, like Twitter and Facebook (FB), into a production. Meanwhile, mainstream TV networks are using YouTube to put up exclusive content and other goodies for superfans. Bravo's late-night talk show Watch What Happens Live actually got its start in online video when Andy Cohen hosted reunion videos for Bravo reality shows. Watch What Happens Live eventually moved to traditional TV--and it's also back online with its own YouTube channel.

YouTube breeds fangirls. There's one part of YouTube culture that I dislike: fangirls. Let me attempt to explain to you what fangirls are. Although the word "girls" is in the name, the word can be applied to members of either sex. Fangirls are really just hard-core fans--fans who immerse themselves in the culture of a particular movie, book, TV show, band, YouTube channel…the list goes on. I think the term "fangirl" is a little different to everyone, but it is generally used to describe that level of frantic fandom introduced to the world with the screaming teenage Beatles fans. I don't want to undermine the power or legitimacy of fangirls and fangirl culture. Fangirls are, after all, the most passionate, dedicated, and loyal fans of all. But can I just say…they can also be freakin' annoying! In the convention center hotel, the lobby was clogged, night and day, with teenage girls milling around, hoping that their favorite YouTubers would pass through.

Déjà vu: The most beautiful, charming, cheekiest video bloggers hail from across the pond, England. As my mom says, some things never change.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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