Gatherings have long been a staple of the UK YouTube community. They provide the perfect opportunity for content creators and viewers to meet, catch up with old friends, and celebrate this wacky online community they are all part of.
As time has gone on, however, these gatherings have had to expand in scale to meet the expectations of the escalating number of potential attendees. From humble beginnings loitering in parks, most of the major gatherings are now held indoors, with ticket prices, security, and food vendors. They have become more akin to conventions than the simple meet-ups of old.
Nevertheless, the UK community has traditionally rallied around one event in particular – Summer in the City – which, while it has achieved a stature equal to many more commercial events, has always tried its best to maintain a community ideal. Its popularity amongst UK YouTubers is of course aided by the fact it is run by a group of friends who happened to have an interest in YouTube and had no idea that their dinky event would grow into the biggest weekend on the UK YouTube calendar.
While Summer in the City is essentially just a gathering, for many it stands as representative of the entire UK YouTube community. So when a selection of high-profile UK YouTubers – such as Alfie Deyes, Zoe Sugg, Louise Pentland, and Marcus Butler – announced they were pulling out of Summer in the City in favour of their own event, Amity Fest, a lot of people online took it rather personally.
To understand the implications of the announcements, TenEighty investigates what the notion of a ‘YouTube community’ really means, and how YouTube events and gatherings factor in to that.
“To me the YouTube community is a group of like-minded individuals who have come together on a shared interest,” says Tom Burns, one of the founders of Summer in the City. The Oxford English Dictionary agrees, defining community as a mass noun describing “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”.
We watch YouTube videos, we discover other people do too, we talk to them online and we get to know each other. The next step is taking those digital relationships into the real world via meet-ups and gatherings. If YouTube videos were porn, then a gathering would be an orgy. Hands-on interaction with a mass of like-minded individuals.
Many YouTubers will slap on their rose-tinted goggles at any opportunity in order to tell you about the days when gatherings consisted of eight people meeting in a McDonald’s bathroom. Or how Summer in the City started out as Liam Dryden playing songs about Doctor Who to a thimble in his bedroom or something. But, unlike a lot of misplaced nostalgia, it actually does seem like YouTube gatherings have been a genuinely warm, intimate and positive experience for many people.
A quick search for ‘Summer in the City gathering’ brings up endless vlogs of the halcyon days when YouTube royalty could mingle with the commoners without fear of being torn limb-from-limb like a Walking Dead extra.
In Lindsay Atkin’s 2012 video, The Truth About YouTube Gatherings, Amber Marshall says the spirit of gatherings is to “share, have fun and make new friends” and, judging by some of the fresh-yet-familiar faces in the video, these are friendships that can last.
Three years on, however, Amber believes that same spirit is in danger. “The celebrity status of lots of YouTubers makes a lot of people think YouTube is all about money, and it’s not,” she tells TenEighty. ”That’s what killed the community.”
So is the YouTube community dead? Or have it and the gatherings that represent it simply had to grow and develop to match the changes in the culture they sprang up around?
“Back when we started YouTube, [our shared interest] was very much content creation,” says Tom. “But now that has evolved to include communities that are brought together by shared viewing habits, which has seen the community itself evolve into a very diverse thing.”
This emergence of the passionate-yet-creatively-passive YouTube viewer brought about the aforementioned development of celebrity culture within the community. The insular camaraderie of old – all YouTubers hanging out as equals – soon proved to be unsustainable as numbers grew and there was a shift towards a more typical performer/audience dynamic.
Observe a hilariously-haired Evan Edinger witnessing a mob of Toby Turner fans causing damage to themselves and each other in Tobuscus London Gathering Riots. Or this poorly-framed footage of Bertie Gilbert being escorted from a gathering by police. These are not images of people trying to make new friends, this is Beatlemania. Or the hysteria of the 1D fandom, if that reference is too outdated.
The change in numbers and attitude within the community caught the organisers of Summer in the City somewhat unaware in 2012. Explaining the event’s move to Alexandra Palace with a paid ticketing system, they stated: “At SitC 2012, we hosted the event in a venue with a capacity of 2,500. On the Saturday of the weekend-long event, we were forced to turn away almost 1,000 people… because the venue was just too full.”
So the event went legit in 2013: charging for tickets, hiring security and becoming the behemoth we know today. Offering talks, panels, live performances, games, merch stands, and meet-and-greets, Summer in the City now follows the model laid out by Hank Green’s VidCon in the US, which is itself influenced in scale and organisation by events like ComicCon.
There have been teething problems in the first couple of years of Summer in the City reaching this magnitude, with enormous queues for meet and greets leading to reports of event volunteers suffering verbal and physical abuse at the hands of frustrated attendees unable to get a selfie with their YouTube idols.
No matter how fervently the SitC organisers cling to the ideal of YouTube gatherings as social, collaborative community events, this kind of behaviour clearly illustrates that there is a large contingent of YouTube viewers who will only be satisfied by being in close proximity to their favourite vloggers.
The frustrations of this faction of event attendees did not go unnoticed. Last year, a new YouTube gathering emerged. An event named YouLive. It purported to be the first YouTube gathering at which guests were guaranteed to meet their favourite YouTuber and featured a promised line-up of big names. YouLive was eventually cancelled amidst accusations of fraud, with many of the line-up denouncing the event and even denying their involvement.
Last year there was also DigiFest, a major YouTube live show which TenEighty referred to as “definitely an event, not a gathering”, which was marred by reports of over-zealous security, cancelled meet and greets and endless queues. Polly Mooney, a YouTuber who attended the event, told us: “Making massive changes to the schedule or cutting off lines after waiting for hours isn’t fair on the fans, who make YouTube what it is.”
Although DigiFest seemed to have its fair share of problems, the concert-style format and promise of VIP tickets perhaps stayed with attendees like Louise and Alfie when putting Amity Fest together.
Amity Fest began last October as a three-date tour by a group of nine YouTubers represented by the Gleam Futures management agency. Playing to packed houses of screaming fans, Amity Fest consisted of a live show featuring talk, games, music and, for an extra fee, the opportunity to spend an hour hanging out with the stars of the show.
“Amity Fest was conceived last year by a group of our talent purely to be able to offer the community yet more choice of live experience and also another chance to meet other people who love online video,” explains Dominic Smales, MD and founder of Gleam Futures.
“The ‘live’ space for the online community has blown up in recent years and I absolutely love the opportunity all live events give online video fans to meet their favourite talent,” he says. “The Amity Fest talent were very passionate about creating a viewer experience that they were in control of.”
Like Summer in the City, Amity Fest’s primary goal is to give its attendees the best experience, but giving the YouTubers themselves more control over that experience is a luxury they are rarely afforded elsewhere.
At most events, content creators are given an itinerary of where they have to be and at what time. Whether it’s the main stage, a panel or a meet-and-greet, they’re not often involved in the decision-making that dictates how their time is managed or how their needs will be met. And if a meet-and-greet line gets cut off before everyone gets to see them, there isn’t much they can do about it except take the blame.
As Jim Chapman explains in a blog post, Amity Fest is about “improving upon the experience” for everyone involved. “Typically at these things, we get only a few seconds with each person who has waited so patiently to meet us,” he says. “On our tour, prior to each 2 hour live show we hung out and had quality time with some of our viewers.”
It is, of course, debatable how much ‘quality time’ can be spent with 75 individuals in the space of an hour, but videos such as this, from infinityemma, suggest that Amity Fest attendees are getting what they want from the deal. It is an event designed to give a select few a more intimate meeting with the YouTubers they love. Summer in the City offers no such guarantee, insisting that their “prime focus is the community aspect of YouTube”.
In her review of the Liverpool Amity Fest show, Charlotte Emily said that there was even vocal disapproval from the crowd when some unannounced and lesser known musical guests took the stage to give the Gleam gang a break: “I overheard A LOT of people complaining that they hadn’t come to see [them] they’d come to see their favourite YouTubers.” This audience isn’t interested if you can sing and play guitar, they want to shout at people they recognise from the internet.
Tom believes that YouTube gatherings should be accessible to “anyone and everyone that has an interest in the platform and hasn’t tried to abuse their links to this community in a negative way” and, to that end, Summer in the City has been kept as affordable as possible. This year’s weekend ticket costs £40, which isn’t bad for a weekend’s worth of fun and entertainment. Especially considering those Amity Fest VIP tickets would have run you £75 for three hours.
With a price tag like that, it’s very easy to view Amity Fest as a cynical cash-grab by a savvy management team exploiting the passion of impressionable youngsters. And many have. Not long after Gleam’s talent announced they wouldn’t be attending Summer in the City, Jack Howard and Dean Dobbs took to twitter to share their opinions.
Won't be attending SITC or AmityFest as I'll be hosting my own event. I'll be sitting in a room with a jar. Put money in the jar and leave.
— Scream Dobbs (@DeanDobbs) January 4, 2015
@theonechameleon because they know they can make more money alone
— Jack Howard (@JackHoward) January 3, 2015
Last year when TenEighty interviewed Dave Bullas, the co-founder of Summer in the City, he speculated over how someone running a profitable business would manage a YouTube event. “They would say ‘make it only one day, forget the panels, drop anyone with less than 500,000 subs from the line up and double the price’,” he said.
However Dom assures us that Amity Fest was created, “100% by Alfie, Caspar, Jim, Joe, Louise, Marcus, Niomi, Tanya and Zoe”. And when customers are coming away as happy as this, who can argue with the product they deliver?
It’s a simple case of supply and demand. If people are willing to pay the prices asked for the service delivered, then that’s the way it goes. You only need to scroll through the hashtag #AmityFest on Twitter to see that the event seems to have succeeded in satisfying those most fervent fans so many other events disappointed.
The dates for Amity Fest have not been announced publicly yet and, because of the Gleam team’s almost unanimous abandonment of Summer in the City 2015, many have speculated that both events will be taking place on the same weekend. However, if the first stint is anything to go by, it’s more likely that Amity 2015 will be a tour and it is possible this means Gleam’s talent will be on the road or even out of the country during the SitC dates.
Their absence, of course, could also be explained as a legitimate business decision. To host Amity Fest and attend SitC would effectively put them in competition with themselves, making their own event less special. A VIP would feel a lot less ‘I’ if they knew hundreds of other people were meeting their idol for half what they paid.
Upon hearing of the Gleamers’ announcements, Tom took to Twitter to voice his disappointment:
All I can say is what I've said in the past. SitC is a community event and was never / will never be a lot a single person or group.
— Tom Burns (@TomRPI) January 3, 2015
I believe choice is healthy with YouTube events and that it allows more people to access things that they could not otherwise.
— Tom Burns (@TomRPI) January 3, 2015
I believe there's a good synergy between the main YT events of the world. I just feel sorry to see exclusivity slip into the frey now.
— Tom Burns (@TomRPI) January 3, 2015
Certainly the either/or separation from SitC can be construed as fostering rivalry, but it is possible that Summer in the City and Amity Fest are ultimately appealing to different people.
Perhaps the YouTube community is now so vast and varied that it can no longer be served by a single gathering, and the interests that brought the community together are now diversifying to such an extent that the only answer is for separate gatherings to accommodate different sub-cultures within YouTube.
Want to know more about YouTube gatherings in the UK?
Check out our coverage from events such as Summer in the City, Amity Fest and DigiFest on our events tab or alternatively take your pick from the links below:
- Main Stage Saturday at Summer in the City 2014
- Main Stage Sunday at Summer in the City 2014
- Creator Day at Summer in the City 2014 Photo Recap
- AmityFest 2014 Photo Recap
- VidFest at MCM Expo Comic Con 2014 Photo Recap
- TenEighty at DigiFestUK 2014