At the first-ever VidCon London, we sat down with founder Hank Green to talk more about the event, speaking out online and the possibility of Green Day playing VidCon in the future.
TenEighty: So it’s the first VidCon London, which is very exciting. Already here in London, specifically here in the ExCel, we’ve had Summer in the City (SitC). How does VidCon compare to that? What sets it apart?
Hank: Hopefully we are in a different season. So we have more content, more stuff happening. My hope is also that we can try and create content for [industry-level] people, so that they can see this in action, so they can see the effect that their decisions have on real people, connect and see how much influence and how much excitement creators bring.
But also I really hope that we can learn from each other, that we can try things out a little different, and see what works, and then if SitC’s doing something that is working well, we can try that. If we’re doing something that’s working well, that might help them make a different decision.
TenEighty: You and John have been doing YouTube for years now. You’re kind of almost seen as leaders of the community and people the community turn to for comment whenever something big happens – whether that’s good, whether that’s bad. What do you make of that view of you as brothers? Are there any pressures or learnings that you’ve had along the way?
Hank: It is really hard and it makes me very cautious when it comes to like, “what are the things I’m going to speak out on?” I have had people say frequently to me, “why haven’t you talked about this particular topic?” And I’m like, ‘because it’s too complicated, and I don’t think that I can do that justice’.
And I’m like I’m not talking about it, probably in large part because I think that the Internet isn’t treating it correctly, and I think people will come for me if I told them that, because people are mad.
I’ve got nothing against rage, when it’s justified rage, absolutely. I think it’s a good fuel, I think it helps move the world forward.
Sometimes I think to myself, if I think that the way the Internet is treating something is unfair, I might be right, but I also might be wrong. So do I really need to bring my level of amplification to my disagreement, or would it be better for me to sit this one out and let people who are more directly affected by it have that conversation?
So I do sit a lot more out these days, and I also think it’s very good for my mental health.
TenEighty: You’re almost expected to have an opinion on everything, aren’t you?
Hank: Yeah, but less now, because I used to do that all the time. So like, every time something was in the news, I’d be like, “I’m going to comment on that”.
Now I don’t anymore, which is great because there was a period where, especially when it came to tragedy – which we will of deal with, and continue to deal with, one way or another – because we made a lot of content, we were interfaced with that more.
Then it would be like, “oh, well you made a video about the terrorist attack in Nice, but you didn’t make a video about the terrorist attack in Yemen” and it’s just like “I’m going to stop talking about terrorist attacks, ‘cause I can’t talk about all of them.” And yeah, I agree.
To some extent, why is that? It’s probably because I identify more with French people than with the Yemeni people and that is an interesting thing to ask myself about, and I’m glad that they talk to me about it.
I feel like I've said this in public before but, just in case I haven't…Spotify is the media company I believe is most likely to pose a significant threat to YouTube.
— Hank Green @ VidCon London! (@hankgreen) February 10, 2019
TenEighty: You recently said on Twitter that in terms of competition for YouTube, Spotify is the one that poses the biggest threat. Can you elaborate on that?
Hank: Sure. So there is a problem – like somewhat of a problem on online video – that has been around for a very long time, and it’s kinda called advertising. That means that advertisers are scared of having their ads next to content they might not like, then YouTube has to be much more careful and doesn’t end up monetising everything.
It’s also just extremely low rates. We make much less than television ads do per ad, we also have much fewer ads per minute of content and so like you just can’t make a lot of money in this business, because it’s ad-based.
YouTube wants to change that with YouTube Premium and like, they have, to some extent. Getting people to sign up for YouTube Premium is a barrier. There are a lot of subscription services people are paying for already. I think it costs more than Netflix, and Netflix is a higher quality product and so it’s kind of a hard sell.
As I watch Spotify get into the podcasting space, I understand that maybe Spotify’s future should be a little bit decoupled from the music industry, because the music industry takes such an enormous cut of Spotify’s revenue that Spotify has a really hard time making a profitable margin on their product.
But bringing in content that doesn’t take as big of a cut – podcasts, for example, or possibly video – you end up with a Spotify that already has a lot of paying, $10 a month subscribers, that could possibly pay a lot more per view than YouTube is. There are a lot of people using that platform already, the question is whether a video tab on your Spotify would be something people would use.
TenEighty: You’ve obviously heard a lot of people say that they’re waiting for that competitor to YouTube to come along because it’s such a difficult site. Is there something you would dream that Spotify would do that may make you reconsider and move to Spotify. Would there be anything that would do that?
Hank: So as far I go, I’m not thinking about this in my personal terms. I feel very at home on YouTube and will always feel at home. It’s like where I live. It’s my social media platform, I grew up there, it’s my town and I love it and would never leave it.
To be clear, a lot of people are mad at YouTube about a lot of things that I think are like not problems that can be solved by another platform.
TenEighty: Can you give examples?
Hank: I think that we get frustrated by, a lot of times, reaching out to our audience. Like, how can we find our audience if my subscriptions page isn’t working…
I don’t think that Spotify will probably even duplicate the subscriptions page, because ultimately, the problem that the subs tab has is, to some extent, a user problem. People subscribe to hundreds of channels, and then it becomes a useless experience and they don’t use it anymore.
I think that a lot of the problems that we have with demonetisation, or low monetisation, are things that could be better on a subscriptions-based platform, but still not something where you’re going to be making a living if you’re getting 1,000 views a video.
I think there’s a lot of frustration that ultimately comes down to user behaviour, and it comes down to just the fact of having way too many people trying to do this at the same time, and it’s a very crowded landscape, and it’s very difficult to stand out.
TenEighty: You’re VidCon founder. What would be the one OTT thing if you had carte blanche to do whatever you wanted, what would be the one thing you would use it for?
Hank: I kinda feel like I have that card. People do what I tell them to do. They don’t do what I tell them to do because I’m the founder, they do it because they think that I’m going to be right about stuff. Usually I’m right though, so I’m worried about cashing it in on stuff I might be wrong about.
To some extent, I do it where I might say, ‘hey, I need you guys to invite this person because I think they’re really great’ and you wouldn’t otherwise because maybe they’re not so big on YouTube. So that’s something I occasionally cash in some of my credit for…
I don’t know! This is a great question, I should have asked myself this before. Do we want a ball pit? Do we want a carnival slide? Do we want a ferris wheel? What do I want? Do I want them to get Green Day out to play a set? That would be amazing.
American Idiot at VidCon 2020, anyone?
Header Photo: Emma Pamplin.