Many years ago (2007?), Heidi described the new “normal” in Hall H. Reading her reportage, I pictured a United Nations refugee camp, people packed into the space, tarps and tents laid out at the back of the hall.
Perhaps it is not that dire, but it seems to get worse each year. Last year, ire was directed towards fans of Twilight who camped out to get the best seats for the big panel.
This year, an attendee was assaulted by another con-goer over space issues, with the alleged attacker stabbing the victim near the eye with a ballpoint pen.
Next year? Heat stroke? Riots?
Currently, Comic-Con International takes a laissez faire approach to Hall H and to all panels. From the home page of their website:
Important Information Regarding Programs and Autographs
All event and program rooms have limited capacity as set by the Fire Marshal. Even though your badge is needed to get into all events, it does not guarantee you access to any event if it has reached its capacity. We do not clear rooms between events. Most autograph signings are of a limited nature. Your badge does not guarantee autographs at any event.
Hall H is not cleared after each event, resulting in “squatting”–arriving early in the day, sitting through other panels, so that you have a guaranteed seat for the panel you want to see. This results in non-fans filling seats and attending panels while the actual fans of that particular panel are left outside.
An extreme example could be that the entire hall is packed with people waiting for an afternoon panel of The Next Big Thing, so that the panels preceding it are completely ignored by everyone squatting in the Hall. Or imagine Marvel Studios scheduling a panel a few hours after DC’s movie panel. Marvel packs the Hall with squatting True Believers, who then actively heckle and belittle DC’s presentation (or completely ignore it).
Given the amounts studios and publishers spend in setting up booths, scheduling celebrities and press interviews, and producing freebies, given that a tepid reaction from fans at Comic-Con can hurt the success of an upcoming movie, it becomes quite obvious how serious the current situation in Hall H is to the companies involved.
So, here are some suggestions. The convention staff are quite good at improving how CCI is run, and I’m sure they are considering alternatives.
1) Ticket all Hall H events. BookExpo America has done this for decades. They have a robust autograph area, where attendees can meet authors and receive free copies. For the most popular authors, they issue free tickets each day of the trade show, starting at seven a.m.
CCI could do the same. The easiest way: rubber wrist bands.
Here’s a possible scenario:
Every morning, starting at six a.m., the event “box office” is opened. This box office is actually a row of tables set up in the Petco Field parking lot. Each table is a specific panel scheduled for that day, and each table is staffed by the studio, publisher, or organization responsible for that panel. This method of staffing reduces the demands of CCI volunteers, and having the companies’ promotional staff present reduces any problems which might arise. Attendees line up at whichever table they most want a ticket for.
Each person in line is allowed two wristbands to that event, and is allowed to pick up wristbands for four events total, moving from one line to the next. Each attendee’s badge would be scanned to keep track of how many events he or she has acquired. Once the badge is scanned, the attendee’s data is sent to the company to allow the company to focus their marketing. Attendees could opt out of this, but companies would encourage participation by sending a special collectible after the convention is over.
Each event would be limited to 6500 wristbands.
Once an event has “sold out”, announcements would be issued by Twitter and other means (bullhorns, signage, press releases).
The wristbands can then be traded (or scalped) in a special area of the parking lot. Each wristband is a collectible, and a visual symbol of an attendee’s affiliations. The number of wristbands worn could also signify how “hardcore” an attendee is. Comic-Con maintains the wristband “menagerie”. Solid colors are reserved for the biggest sponsors, with lesser events getting striped colors. Sponsors determine what is stamped onto the band.
CCI could also sell “all access” wristbands for charity, which guarantees a person unlimited access for the day’s panels (but without any special seating). The wristband itself is not used to access panels, but instead prompts security to scan the attendee’s badge for confirmation.
Once the general hubbub has dissipated, remaining wristbands would be available at a specific location within the convention center. The 2/4 limitation would remain in effect.
Possible complication: If tickets are handed out at six a.m., with the first event at ten a.m., would there be enough time for people to acquire the tickets they want without missing the early panels? This could be corrected by handing out wristbands for morning events the day before, or by opening the “box office” earlier in the morning.
Distribution could be facilitated by sponsors’ employees walking the line, scanning badges, and handing out wristbands. Security staff would be required to avoid chaos.
2) Allow attendees to line up for the next event only. 6,500 attendees is a lot of people. If possible, either a holding pen is created in a nearby room, and then the line is escorted to Hall H, or space is found outside the building. While the attendees are waiting, each person’s wristband is checked, and each badge is scanned. (The data is harvested later by the companies.) Given the fire code, how large a space is needed to accommodate 6500 standing people?
3) Clear Hall H after each event. Fifteen minutes are scheduled between each event. The few attendees who have wristbands for the next event are scanned by Con staff and allowed to remain in the Hall. Attendees exit through the front of the Hall. Immediately behind them is a wave of Con employees who quickly glean the empty rows of seats, removing large pieces of garbage and any possible lost-and-found items. (One security employee is responsible for tagging and securing items of value.) Once the Hall is cleared of attendees, remaining attendees are scanned for the next event, the rows are cleared of debris, and the doors are opened for the attendees waiting in line outside. To accommodate the extra time needed between panels, the Con could program Hall H events to occur later in the day.
4) Provide close-circuit video feeds. Since some attendees will be unable to acquire the wristband for a panel, reserve space elsewhere for viewing. One space would be the “holding pen”, distracting those waiting in line for the next event. Another space could be a hotel ballroom with catering staff providing “room service” for attendees. (Brand it as “Comic-Con Drive-In”.) Each event sponsor would control the video feed for the event, allowing for blackouts of sensitive media such as preview reels. One unedited copy of the video feed would be owned by the sponsor of the event, a duplicate copy would be archived and embargoed for a specific period in the Con’s archives. The sponsor would decide how and when their copy is disseminated.
Of course, a sponsor could always set up their own presentation elsewhere and exert even greater control on how their message is controlled. Both Disney and Lucasfilm have run their own conventions. The Marriott’s largest room can seat 4,000. The Grand Hyatt has three rooms which can seat 3700, 2860, and 3200. The Hilton: 2660 and 3770. What if a studio offered multiple viewings of the same panel, thereby reducing the need for Hall H?