Every year someone wonders before the big show if Hollywood is giving up on Comic-Con, based on a perceived scarcity of panels or whatever, and then Steven Spielberg comes out on stage and kisses Benedict Cumberbatch and everyone forgets about this ideas for another 340 days.
This year, it’s Germain Lussier at /Film asking Is Hollywood Giving Up SDCC?. Lussier is an experienced pro at this so I’d endorse him as “knowledgable” on Linked-In. His main observation is that a bunch of studios—Universal, Disney and Lionsgate—aren’t even having Hall H panels. It is true that every year some big studios sit things out, so this doesn’t seem overly notable to me. However he does find that an awful lot of big 2015 movies aren’t even on the schedule—not even Expendables 3, tailor made for the Comic-Con experience!—and offers some theories why:
Then there’s the logical suggestion films like the ones mentions above simply don’t need Comic-Con anymore. Everyone who attends the convention will see a movie like Star Wars Episode VII opening weekend. Promoting a film like that at Comic-Con can’t really raise awareness. It just adds to anticipation and maybe that’s not worth the cost.
Other conventions are also a factor. Where San Diego Comic-Con is still the biggest game in town, many other conventions have started coming up on its tail. New York Comic-Con is growing every year along with others. Then specialized cons like the D23 Expo and Star Wars Celebration offer studios other, likely less expensive, alternatives to SDCC.
And finally, maybe Hollywood’s time has just passed. For the better part of a decade, Comic-Con became Movie-Con. Now, the transition has definitely began to TV Con. Not mentioned in the above examples are the Hall H slots used for huge TV shows like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Supernatural and more. Fanbases of those shows are growing, because they provide entertainment on the same level of quality as movies, but without a $15 ticket price. So the networks have begun to interact with those fanbases with Comic-Con panels.
The TV Con things has been happening for a while, and to be honest, it’s a evolutionary reaction to the huge risk of bombing in Hall H. It’s true that Avatar, the biggest movie of all times, bombed at SDCC, and Scott Pilgrim was huge, so probably studios have just wised up that what happens in Hall H DEFINITELY stays in Hall H. For a TV show the risks just aren’t as big—established shows arrive with messianic force and new shows get a lot more “Well it was just the pilot” leeway.
This year there has DEFINITELY been a reduction in the random press emails you get prior to Comic-con, though. No “Have sushi with the cast of Wives of Dubuque” invites. This could just be because studios have slimmed their invites to actual writers they work with and not the 3000 strong mob of Comic-Con press. Or maybe everyone is late.
While comments are always a mixed bag, there is one that seems to offer a bit of insight, from one “IronCity412” which suggests that money actually is a factor in these parsimonious times:
“maybe Comic-Con is simply getting too expensive for some studios”
ding. ding. ding…. I worked at two studios in marketing and in both cases we ran the internal numbers and Comic-Con was hands down not worth the investment. The only reason we went back was to keep sensitive talent and filmmakers happy knowing it was only to stroke their egos. What you are seeing with Disney is simply a smarter approach to how they spend their limited marketing dollars. They are standing up to the talent and saying no more ego stroking. The resources will be spent in ways that will be more effective in opening the movie.
Comic-Con is an amazing event, but it has become an arms race of spending and if you don’t spend, you don’t impress and that can cause more harm than good.
While I suspect that when we hit the ground and see the trolleys, banners, bouncy castles and Viking rivers it will seem like Hollywood never left, the expansion of Con culture has definitely given studios more venues to get their message out, and events like D23 and Movie-Con—and maybe even SXSW—give them more control over messaging, which is what this is really about. Comic-Con’s 130,000+ comics readers, line-waiters, cosplayers, party crashers and exclusive toy buyers is too chaotic and self-actuated about their Comic-Con experience to be imprinted with any overall message.
All that said, I still wish I’d been able to get one of those Pan Am bags years ago.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.