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.


  1. >All that said, I still wish I’d been able to get one of those Pan Am bags years ago.

    Me too, tho i did get one of the canvas versions, not the “leather” ones and had to stake that group out by the hard rock for a good 15 minutes. one of the stews giving them out had her purse stolen as i recall…

  2. If they want what happens in Hall H to leave Hall H, maybe they shouldn’t be so quick to slap DMCA notices on everyone who films a bootleg of the trailer or whatever. I mean, I know it’s way more complicated than that, but that part just stuck out at me as sort of ironic. Word of mouth, even of the the internet variety, can only take you so far.

  3. First off, nobody does better analysis of the industry and SDCC in particular than Heidi. I always love when she posts these articles.

    To me, San Diego was about getting the taste makers (us) to like a lot of this stuff so much that we’d talk about it to the mainstream and get them on board. For example, that was the value of showing the pilot of Heroes at San Diego and using that time to build awareness online for the show.

    But if you look at mainstream media now, it is almost all scifi and fantasy and comic book films. Transformers 4 and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opened to massive numbers. I’d suspect most of those are “mainstream” audiences.

    Budgets play a factor, no question, but I also wonder if Hollywood feels they need the SDCC attendee endorsement anymore…

  4. I can think of several TV shows that would’ve benefitted from a Comic-Con push, but most of them debuted mid-season where the buzz would’ve worn off anyway. With more channels adopting a non-traditional tv season, pushing their product at a convention that happens once a year during the summer doesn’t really present much of a benefit.

    The reason I dislike SDCC now is that “in the good ole days” you could go there and discover something new and great. Now, everything is force-fed to you.

    I hope Hollywood does abandon Comic-Con, and they can take the television networks with them. I’d rather have Guille

  5. I’d rather have Guillermo del Toro there pushing The Strain because he wants to be there rather than FX’s marketing department doing it along with their other 20 shows that have no place at Comic Con.

    *sorry for double post.

  6. Heidi,

    Please tell us that “Wives of Dubuque” is a real thing and that you are sending Todd Allen to get the exclusive.

  7. I think the change to emphasis on the TV shows in Hall H in part stems from the fact that the dedicated fans of those shows are the ones who are making the effort and jumping through the hoops to actually get a pass to the convention. The more casual movie fan has probably quit trying to even get into the show.

    However, if they want to do an event where any fans of a show can make it, they really have to start doing separate events (like Starz has done with Outlander).

  8. So, has Hollywood’s marketing investment also affected merchandising outside Hall H?

    I see more value in Disney doing a “Flynn’s Arcade” offsite event than a Hall H panel. How many people sit in Hall H? 6,130. For one hour. And some of those butts are camping out for another panel and aren’t interested in the panel, and the rest? You’re preaching to the choir. Or the converted can’t get in, and begin to question their faith.

    How many people can wander through an offsite event that’s open twelve hours (or 24!) a day? Which doesn’t require a con badge? Which might not yet be fans, but want to experience something cool? Or to put it in Disney-speak, how many people ride the A-ticket rides at Disneyland because the lines are too long at the E-ticket rides? (Even the House of Tomorrow has a few cool things to see at Disneyland…)

    I’m quite surprised that the big booths don’t downsize on the exhibition floor, and replace that square footage by renting space in the Hyatt and running a public mini-con. They control the hours, they control the crowds, they control the programming, they control the message.
    The Grand Hall in the Hyatt seats 3700 or 168 10’x10′ booths.
    Or use one of the other THREE ballrooms.
    AND, if a corporation rents that space, they probably get a good deal on hotel rooms at the Hyatt! As well as other event spaces, like the bar and restaurants.

    Of course, one wonders why there isn’t a D23 event at Orlando, given the multitude of convention space at WDW. (Host it at the Dolphin and Swan.)

  9. I thought it was usually a “Has Comics Left Comic-Con” think piece that comes every year.

    That said, I always assumed that it was mostly a prestige thing — I presume the studios realized a while ago that it wasn’t really resulting in ticket sales, but they still HAD to be there. Plus, isn’t it a way for them to pay tribute to the fans? (But I guess that’s what the TV shows are doing now.)

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