Hollywood has created a monster when it comes to Comic-Con.
Film and television panels now overshadow everything else happening at the San Diego fanfest — all of the other informative panels about the comicbook, videogame and toy industries that attract individuals looking to break into the biz, or the artists showcasing their latest work on the show floor.
Now that studios have found a captive audience, and spend millions of dollars each year to court them through presentations, installations and lavish booths, they must decide whether to do more of the same in the future or get a little more creative in how it connects with the Comic-Con crowd.
There’s certainly room to rethink its strategy, especially at a time when studios and theater owners are trying to find new ways to sell tickets or networks look to boost ratings. With Comic-Con generating instant word-of-mouth for projects hitting the big and small screens, here’s how Hollywood could put the fanfest to better use:
1. Live Stream Panels: Studios should borrow what works for the major videogame publishers during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles each year and live stream the film and TV panels that take place in Hall H and Ballroom 20 at Comic-Con. The technical aspects wouldn’t be that complicated since they already use companies like Ustream to webcast their red carpet premieres (watch Xbox’s E3 presentation below).
Doing so in San Diego would ensure that the people — especially the media — that want to watch the events will have access, while significantly expanding the audience for the presentations worldwide. With Comic-Con now a major marketing platform to launch campaigns for movies and TV shows, Hollywood is only limiting itself by not live streaming its Comic-Con events. With each film costing from $1 million to $3 million to take to San Diego each year, studios should consider opportunities to make that money go further.
Studios have long touted that the footage shown at Comic-Con was created exclusively for the 6,500 people that pack Hall H. But Comic-Con is so large now that Hollywood needs to think bigger and think beyond the audience that’s willing to camp out overnight to get close to a film’s stars — imagine just how many more couldn’t make the trip to San Diego.
2. Take It Outside: The Petco Park baseball stadium that seats 42,445, and is walking distance from the San Diego Convention Center, is being underutilized — especially when it comes to all of those seats. Studios should consider moving a Hall H presentation or two to that venue in order to pack in a larger audience and further eventize what they’re bringing to Comic-Con. If it gets too pricey, there’s surely a promotional partner or two that’s willing to gain some exposure by helping cover the costs to get in front of an influential audience.
Other parts of the stadium, including the open area underneath its bleachers, the surrounding park and its parking lots, already are being used by Zachary Levi’s Nerd Machine to host Nerd HQ, “The Walking Dead Escape” and installations by Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, and film studios, so a takeover of the rest of Petco isn’t that unusual during the Con.
3. Give Promotional Partners the Chance to Play with Properties: A “Hunger Games” experience that electronics maker Samsung created with Lionsgate to promote “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part I” at Comic-Con was an eye opener. Samsung isn’t in the film, but by allowing it to create a space that brought the next “Hunger Games” installment to life through high-tech installations, prop-filled photo ops, costumed models, and the first look at the movie’s teaser trailer, Lionsgate was able to save money with its trip to Comic-Con while rewarding one of its partners in a way that elevated Samsung in a unique way and had fans lining up for days to take part.
4. Embrace the Show: Studio panels can become dull affairs with talent dragged out on stage for short periods of time, where they’re asked a few questions by moderators eagerly trying to get them to open up, before footage is played and the next project is introduced. For WB’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill weren’t even given microphones and were asked to wave and move on. Marvel Studios gets it, however, turning its Hall H presentations into glorified rock concerts, with audiences on their feet and screaming. There’s so much energy in the air it’s infectious. The talent wants to be there and it shows and fans are only happy to reward them when their projects come out — and can’t stop talking them up until they do.
5. Create a Film Festival for Genre Fans: With a captive audience looking for things to do in the evening during Comic-Con, studios could organize a film festival of smaller titles competing with big budget tentpoles for attention. This year featured more screenings than usual — Fox’s “Let’s Be Cops” and “The Maze Runner,” Paramount’s “Hercules,” New Line’s “Into the Storm,” and smaller indie horror films like Shock Till You Drop and the Fangoria’s free screening of “The Canal” were among them — but with a proper program in place, local theaters could be put to good use in order to drum up buzz around films that need them.
It’s been pointed out that the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival already takes place during the fanfest, which put a spotlight on titles like “The Posthuman Project.” Few attendees, however, know the festival exists. Again, another opportunity for a forward thinking marketer.
6. Temper Expectations: Pay attention to the pent-up demand for projects. Much has been written or tweeted about the disappointment in Legendary when it showed a teaser for “Skull Island,” a new project based on the home of King Kong, rather than the first footage for “Jurassic World,” which it is co-financing with Universal. The negative reaction was palpable; what should have been cool wound up being confusing. The same is true for Marvel when it didn’t announce who will play “Doctor Strange” during its panel. While the studios never said they had plans to talk about those films, they also didn’t dissuade anyone from chatting up the possibility of their presence, either. The hype instantly turned to disappointment, which could have been avoided with a message relayed through a news outlet or blog — or with a simple tweet.