At VidCon, A Chance To See YouTube Celebrities Off The Screen

Producers, deal-makers and thousands of screaming fans turned out this week for VidCon. The largest conference for online video producers wraps up today in Anaheim.

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The online video industry is growing up. It has its own annual conference called VidCon, now in its fifth year. VidCon wraps up today at the Anaheim Convention Center as Corey Takahashi reports. The three-day event draws producers, dealmakers and thousands of fans just who just hope to meet their favorite YouTube stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF FANS SCREAMING)

COREY TAKAHASHI, BYLINE: Imagine screams like this every few minutes and you'll begin to get a sense of the scene at VidCon. The halls are filled with YouTube executives, independent creators and fans. Many are repeat visitors, like Britney Beals, who came with her father and sister.

Beals says she's here to meet her idols and learn from them, so she can continue creating her own fashion and travel content on YouTube and Tumblr. She prefers the approachable stars at VidCon over celebrities from TV and film.

BRITNEY BEALS: Traditional celebrities now are a lot older. They're in their 20s, whereas I'm 15. And so I can find people on YouTube that are the same age that I can relate to.

TAKAHASHI: Beals likes stars that she gets to know as friends, warts and all.

BEALS: Traditional celebrities are more viewed as flawless, whereas YouTube celebrities have more of that like flawed factor. And they're very open about their problems.

TAKAHASHI: Lately, Beals has been learning from a rising YouTube star who makes videos about nail art.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

SANDI BALL: I'm really excited to share with you guys this super easy technique for creating newspaper nails.

BALL: My name is Sandi Ball. I'm a YouTube creator. My channel name is CutePolish and I create...

TAKAHASHI: Until recently, Sandi Ball was pursuing a career as a teacher. But millions of views on YouTube have led her down a different path and recognition in the halls of VidCon.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE INTERACTING AT CONFERENCE)

TAKAHASHI: Ball's work has also caught the attention of Vanessa Del Muro, who's with a company called StyleHaul. StyleHaul helps develop online talent for an audience of Millennial women. StyleHaul also connects its talent roster with big brands and lucrative deals.

DEL MURO: We know that Millennial's really trust other people versus advertising moreso than other generations. So I think, you know, them taking advice from an influencer - someone they regard as a friend or a big sister - it means a lot to them.

TAKAHASHI: This peer-to-peer mindset, supercharged by social media, makes it difficult to tell who's a creator and who's the audience at VidCon. And there are so many mobile phones around it's impossible to know who's watching media and who's trying to create the next viral video hit or trying to catch the eye of an agent to go mainstream.

Some VidCon veterans, like the Fine brothers, have had so much success with online video, they've built franchises. "React" is a series in which people react to questions or scenarios posed by the Fine brothers. In this one, teenagers react to a video collaboration between pop stars Psy and Snoop Dogg.

(SOUNDBITE FROM YOUTUBE VIDEO, "REACT")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1: I feel like he just tries too hard now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2: This is bizarre.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So it's actually in English - some of it this time. That's cool.

TAKAHASHI: A version of their "React" web series has been picked up for an upcoming TV series on Nickelodeon. The Fine brothers are working on other TV and film projects, too. Benny Fine says the shift began last year.

BENNY FINE: It's a very interesting time right now where it's underground but it's also mainstream. And it's going to hit a tipping point. The question is what does that tipping point do to all of us?

TAKAHASHI: The answer at this year's VidCon can be seen in the attendees. You're still likely to run into unknown talent with scrappy web video dreams. But you're more likely than ever to run into venture capitalists and Hollywood executives, too. In 2014, it seems there's simply too large an audience for web video outsiders to continue to be outsiders anymore. For NPR News, I'm Corey Takahashi in Anaheim.

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