Hollywood Points the Focus Fans Comic-Con

The velvet rope that has divided Hollywood from its fanbase at San Diego’s Comic-Con is showing some slack.

Studios and TV networks that spend millions to set up shop in the city each July are embracing a strategy that involves more screenings, photo ops and stunts designed to build buzz among the roughly 130,000 fanboys and fangirls from around the world who flock to the four-day event. Credit the power of social media platforms, which serve as inexpensive tools to instantly spread positive word-of-mouth around projects, and have prompted the entertainment industry to put more power into the hands of fans.

That means fewer invite-only rooftop VIP events where bouncers turn away long lines of hopeful partygoers because they don’t have the right wristband. Instead, for example, Warner Bros. Television has organized a three-hour evening event to promote “The Flash,” “Gotham,” “Constantine” and “Arrow.”

Inside the crowded San Diego Convention Center, massive booths will feature elaborate photo ops — for instance, DC Comics is bringing all of Batman’s costumes from the entire franchise. Outside the venue, Adult Swim is setting up glorified bouncy castles that aren’t just for kids.

Separately, Paramount is hosting a “Star Trek” concert; TNT and CraveOnline will throw a party headlined by rockers MGMT on the USS Midway aircraft carrier; and a zombie-filled “Walking Dead” maze (thanks, AMC) again will invade Petco Park baseball stadium.

The point: to give people something to do and tweet about.

But that comes at a price: Studios spend between $1 million and $3 million per film, depending on the talent participating, on activities ranging from presentations to parties, giveaways and screenings, transportation by private jet, hotel suites that start at $500 a night and $30,000-$60,000 worth of swag, as well as up to $200,000 for a red carpet premiere. Networks pony up between $500,000 and $2 million per series.

That doesn’t include the cost to exhibit inside the convention center, which ranges between $75,000 to $200,000, depending on size. A booth like Starz’s planned interactive space is expected to add $150,000-$300,000 to that cost.

“I don’t really see any downside” to the expense of Comic-Con, says Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for Twentieth Century Fox, which will showcase upcoming pics “The Book of Life,” “The Maze Runner,” “Let’s Be Cops” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

Even though studios and nets continue to emphasize their Hall H presentations, the 6,500 people camping out to get in account for a mere 5% of the total number of people attending Comic-Con. That’s forced presenters to get more creative.

“It’s really important for us to do something broader for people not able to go to Comic-Con,” says Alison Hoffman, Starz’s senior VP of marketing. Starz will promote “Outlander,” by having a public screening at the Spreckles Theater, the first time the 102-year-old cinema has been used for a red carpet premiere.

Comic-Con organizers are also offering fans a chance to watch rebroadcasts of the sold-out Hall H and Ballroom 20 panels inside the ‘Playbook Room’ at the nearby Omni Hotel. The only snag–the playbooks will not feature clips or footage shown at the live events.

In addition, there still will be celebrity-friendly retreats like Wired’s annual cafe housed on the rooftop of the Omni, and Entertainment Weekly’s talent-filled party that closes the Con.

“Our focus,” Starz’ Hoffman adds, “is the fandemonium.”

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