Playlist Live brings YouTube to the Real World

Playlist Live connects fans and YouTube celebrities in Orlando, Florida, during the largest gathering of a new age of video superstars.

Playlist Live brings YouTube to the Real World

Playlist Live is finished for 2014 in Orlando.

After attending an event that we had planned for since June, our daughter thought it "was very weird that it is over."

Eliza met most of her favorite YouTube stars. With 8,000 attendees, and most of them teenage girls, it is a unique atmosphere. Lining up for hours was the name of the game. The doors opened each morning at 10am and many began waiting outside the venue before dawn.

Eliza with Troye Sivan at final day Meetup

Eliza joined the line at 6:30am Sunday, the final day of the event when organozers had four of the biggest meetups at the same time - Kingsley, Troye Sivan, O2L, Jenna Marbles - all at noon. While she was online for these, they announced that Joey Graceffa's line was closed for his 1pm meetup. Seeing a popular YouTuber was a challenge. Eliza choose Troy Silvan and was totally excited. After Troy, she watched Maz who had a nearly seven hour meetup next to the pool at the Caribe Royale.

Eliza came away from the weekend with new friends and a better understanding of the power of YouTube. She made friends from Virginia, Florida and points beyond. Even with the bad crowd control and terrible line control, the Playlist Live experience was well worth it.

Her final experience of the weekend was listening to Chase Goehring performing original songs and covers.

Eliza and JC Caylen

On Friday, our biggest moment yesterday was when YouTuber JC Caylen came down the waterslide in front of us with a hundred girls lining the edge of the pool documenting his trip into the water. None of the parents around us had any idea who he was, and when the girls told us, we still didn't know. When I told Eliza he was right in front of us, her reply was "I already met him."

But that is the standard at Playlist Live. The parents are the outcasts. The kids are having a blast and the entertainment seems to be safe and rewarding to the attendees.

Within an hour of arriving in Orlando on Wednesday, Eliza found her favorite British YouTubers enjoying the Florida sun at the Caribe Royale pool.

One of the first selfies was with Zoella and then with some of her favorites jumping in for a full group picture. Zoe is one of the biggest YouTubers today with over 4 MILLION subscribers and more than 150 MILLION views. That is just an incredible following.

When Alfie of PointlessBlog, Joe Sugg of ThatcherJoe, Marcus Butler, Thomas Ridgewell, Jack Howard, Benjamin Cook and Casper Lee of DiCasp all gathered at the pool, Eliza was one of the first to say hello.

It was a great first introduction to the celebrities of Playlist Live.

Eliza With Playlist Live's British YouTubers

Eliza met many of her favorites including Jim Chapman, Naomi Smart, Sam Pepper, Andy Samuels, Sam Pottorff (one-sixth of the biggest collab channel on YouTube), Cyr and Tyler Oakley. Tyler Oakley was incredibly welcoming after a late-night arrival from LA.

What is Playlist Live and how did we get here?

My wife, daughter and I are on our way to Playlist Live in Orlando, FL, a three-day gatherings for fans, creators and supporters of online video.

What is Playlist Live? It is a gathering of YouTube-grown performers and fans. For those of us too old to know what this means, we have to turn to the age group that truly understands it - the tweens, teens and twenty somethings.

For me, the road to Playlist started with my daughter's interest in YouNow, Digifest and Central Park Meetups.

When my daughter, Eliza, asked to attend Digifest at Terminal 5 on Manhattan’s West Side, I said sure with no idea of what the event entailed. I knew she was into performers on YouTube, whom she said would attend the event.

As it approached, she informed me it was a seven-hour extravagaza. Then she asked if we could get there early so she could be at the front of the general admission line and see the “stars” arrive. Again without really thinking about it, I said yes.

My experiences as a photojournalist have prepared me for most of the requests my daughter has made. Now that she is 15 and entrenched in the new social media music, comedy and YouTube culture, I am discovering just how out of touch I have become with this new wave. And that has really panicked me.

I decided to begin a concerted effort to discover what the new generation is embracing as their go-to mediums for knowledge and entertainment.

Eliza Phillips with Ryan Abe, Joey Gatto, Nick and Adam Buongiovanni, Nolan Emme, and Melanie Watson at YouNow meetup in New York City's Central Park.

The morning of Digifest, Eliza asked me to take her to the venue at 9:30am. With the doors not opening until 3pm, I was skeptical and a little wary of dropping her in Manhattan for a 14-hour day. I decided to accompany her and hang out until she entered the venue. Much to my surprise, dozens of teenage girls were already sitting on the sidewalk on 56th Street and more were arriving constantly. As the crowd grew, the teens became instant friends, sharing their knowledge, Twitter handles, Facebook posts and Instagram accounts. The parents began to be pushed out of the line and as the morning progressed, we found ourselves gathering to discuss this amazing culture that captivated our children.

“Where are you from?” I was asked over and over. Jim brought his daughter and nephew from Boston by train that morning. Bill brought his daughter from Chicago as her 8th grade graduation present. Jill drove from Delaware, passing through five states in an 8 hour drive to get on line by noon. The list grew. Every parent asked me if I knew anything about the performers. I had to plead my ignorance.

At noon, the first of the Social Media stars began to arrive. The crowd, predominantly girls from 14 to 20, stretched in both directions from the front entrance of Terminal 5. Every arrival was greeted with screaming like the rock stars of our generation. Hardly any seemed old enough to shave, let alone capture an audience the size of this crowd.

The first arrivals came with skateboards in hand, wading into the crowds, hugging their fans and taking selfies with their iPhones. As bigger names arrived, I was taken aback at how my daughter knew who every single one was - Jonah Green, Andrea Russett, Kina Grannis, Louis Cole and Joey Graceffa. When she tweeted a picture of herself with Chase Goehring, and he favorited it, she was ecstatic. Then when his mother retweeted it, she could barely contain her enthusiasm. It was infectious and I found myself enjoying the entire scene. The “stars” seemed like normal people as amazed as the parents at the fans reaction.

The organizers came out and began talking with the crowd. There would be no underage drinking, no smoking, no drugs, and the entire culture seemed to be anti-bullying. It was refreshing to see an event that seemed to be about total fun. As the girls surged into the venue, I felt comfortable leaving my daughter with a group of new friends she made on line.

Over the length of the seven hour show, she texted me and let me know how much fun she was having. The crowds were tight inside the venue, but the performers were friendly and interacted with the fans. She talked with people onstage and off. She gathered swag and loved the experience.

Another parent, waiting for his teen before traveling back to Pennsylvania, said “this seems like a big web of friendship.”

Walking by one of the stage doors, I met the members of Allstar Weekend, one of the musical groups performing at Digifest. I was unaware of who they were. Now that I have done my research, there were so many more questions I would have asked.

When I arrived back to the venue at 10pm, I waited outside for the event to finish. Some of the same parents that I saw in the morning were back to pick up their teens. We began our discussions anew. One parent said to me, “If this is a cult, it sure is a safe feeling cult.”

So now we have graduated to traveling to the premiere event of this online world, Playlist Live. And now I know many more of the questions to ask. For three days we will be immersed in the new age of entertainment. The event is March 21 to 23, 2014, with a list of sponsors that would make any event proud. My daughter is excited about nearly everyone on the lineup list.

Eliza Phillips And Chase Goehring at DigiFest 2013.

After meeting Marcus Butler at his meetup in Central Park, with a line of nearly 2,000 girls who waited for hours, she was happy to see his name on the list. She also met Joey Gatto, Adam and Nick Buongiovanni, and Ryan Abe at other Central Park Meetups. The chance to meet them again in Orlando is an exciting prospect. Eliza has been a part of the online community for years, immersing herself in the experience. She has made many friends and stayed at the forefront of the music scene. Many of the bands she listens to finally hit the mainstream months after she discovered them. All my friends are amazed. I have had many a parent of her friends tell me that "I heard this 'new' band introduced on the local radio station, and realized that Eliza had played them for me months before."

Alex Tchekmeian, Kevin Khandjian and Jared Mendelewicz of Orlando based AKT Enterprises started Playlist Live in 2011, bringing the online world to Orlando. Using a total Social Media marketing plan, the event snowballed in a way that traditional marketing has not accomplished. In just three years the event has grown from 60 performers and 1,500 fans, to over 150 performers and a sold-out venue at the Caribe Royale Resort in Orlando. I have discovered a few performers that I like and am interested in what they have to say.

Jack and his twin brother, Finn, are British YouTubers who have over 3 million subscribers on their channel, JacksGap. After attending the 2013 event, Jack Harries said, "I couldn't help wondering how making videos in my bedroom, led to this."  Estimates say that over 88% of their subscribers are girls. At Playlist Live 2013, he met thousands of fans from America and performed live on stage. It seemed an overwhelming and humbling experience for the Vlogger. Doing signings with fans and meeting his supporters actually seemed like a highlight and something that is rewarding to both fans and "stars."

Eliza Phillips with Marcus Butler at his meetup in New York's Central Park.

The advocacy of the stars is evident. Tyler Oakley's videos are geared to LGBT rights and pop culture. They are talk shows that are infectious. He is strong across every medium of social media, including over 2 million followers on Twitter and more than 137,000,000 video views and 4 million subscribers.

It is a different form of entertainment. The content creators are much more accessible than the boy bands and like to share their knowledge with their fans. The community is growing rapidly and the industry is really just beginning. It will be interesting to see how it grows over the next decade as this first wave of YouTube entrepreneurs shape a new media outlet away from the traditional airwaves.

If you don't have tickets to Orlando, which is completely sold out, you can follow the weekend exploits on Eliza Phillips' Twitter. the event has expanded to a second venue at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, NJ, where  Playlist Live Tri-State 2014 is scheduled for November 21-23, 2014.