H’wood looks east to Gotham Comic Con

New York event has grown as a destination for geeks and Hollywood

After taking over San Diego this summer, Hollywood is following the nerds to New York.

With more than 115,000 attendees expected to fill the Javits Center over the next four days when it kicks off today, New York Comic Con has evolved into another important platform for studios and TV networks to promote their upcoming projects.

That’s especially become the case for new TV shows or seasons of returning series bowing this fall but also genre film fare unspooling in theaters in the coming months and early 2013.

This year, the roster of TV projects looking for traction at New York Comic Con includes AMC’s “The Walking Dead”; Warner Bros. TV’s “Arrow,” “The Following,” “666 Park Avenue” and “Person of Interest”; Syfy’s “Haven” and “Lost Girl”; Adult Swim’s “Children’s Hospital”; and MTV’s “Teen Wolf.”

On the film side, New Line, Screen Gems, MGM, TriStar Pictures, Lionsgate and Open Road are tak”The Conjuring,” the “Carrie” and “Evil Dead” reboots, “Texas Chainsaw 3D” and “Silent Hill: Revelation 3D,” respectively.

Fox and Universal, meanwhile, will promote the homevid launches of “Prometheus,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “Ted.” Fox hired Lincoln look-alikes and four vampires to roam the convention and city in 18th-century costumes. Square Enix also will be among the publishers on hand to hype new videogames. First-timers in attendance include Lego.

What attracts Hollywood to the convention is NYCC’s fall berth on the calendar, as well as its presence in the nation’s largest media market. But the event’s rising attendance over the years has led the studios, networks, videogame publishers and toymakers to take NYCC more seriously.

In 2009, NYCC sold more than 90,000 passes for the first time in its history. This year, the event is sold out of its more than 115,000 available badges. Reps said the con could have sold even more, but certain areas of the Javits Center are closed off this year due to roof repairs.

“If we had all the space available, we could have even more,” said Lance Fensterman, group VP of ReedPOP, an offshoot of Reed Exhibitions that produces NYCC. “Next year, all of the space will be available.”

But NYCC still has a lot of room to grow to rival the size and scope of San Diego Comic-Con,which has taken place each year in July over the last 42 years.

San Diego’s proximity to Los Angeles will always make that summer event more attractive to showbiz, and its July date helps generate early buzz for fall fare. But Fensterman said SDCC’s timing benefits NYCC.

“It’s amazing what they’ve been able to build, but they’re in the middle of summer and a lot of films that would be relevant to their audience are already out,” he said. “It’s been an evolution to establish ourselves as a spot for film and TV studios to promote their properties. We’re still climbing that ladder. We’re still establishing ourselves.”

Building that presence includes nurturing the NYCC’s nightly party circuit, which is tame compared to that of San Diego, where studios, gamemakers, online players like IGN and magazines like Entertainment Weekly and Maxim host big bashes.

“It’s not quite there yet,” Fensterman said. “It takes time for that to build. For the first three years we had no parties.”

This year, organizers of San Diego’s Kings of Con bash will host their first East Coast version at NYCC on Thursday night from the WIP nightclub, with Valiant Comics, followed by a party by Legendary Entertainment, its recent acquisition Nerdist Industries and Broadway Video on Saturday.

“Obviously, there is no comparison at this point as San Diego was already the premiere comicbook convention before it transcended into the pop-culture platform of the year and a huge party scene then sprawled out from that,” said film producer Daniel Alter, who is producing the Kings of Con event with Umberto Gonzalez. “NYCC is still more like a traditional Comic Con, but it does have more and more people coming every year and it’s in the city that never sleeps, so we felt there was an opportunity to start a trend. Hopefully people will enjoy themselves and well have a positive reception and other brands that host parties in San Diego will follow suit in the years to come as NYCC is destined to keep getting bigger and bigger.”

In the past, the event attracted nearly 60% of its audience from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. But a growing number of attendees are coming from other states, with as much as 40% coming from across the country and nearly 10% made up of visitors from overseas.

Just like in San Diego, the Con pumps coin into the local economy, especially area restaurants and hotels. And the event generates around $15 million to $20 million in sales for exhibitors on the show floor.

The general makeup of the NYCC crowd is 60% men, ages 18-35 — an often hard to reach audience for advertisers. “We’re right in that sweet spot,” Fensterman said.

That demographic lure should help attract more entertainment properties in the future.

Given that Gotham is their homebase, Marvel and DC were quick to embrace NYCC as a way to promote their comicbooks when the event launched in 2006 and attracted 20,000 ticket buyers.

“The show wouldn’t exist if Marvel and DC didn’t support it,” Fensterman said. “Every year they come out bigger.” NYCC now ranks as one of only four shows the publishers present at, including SDCC and the Comic Cons in Toronto and Chicago.

What gets presented — and the amount of involvement by a studio — depends on the timing of a property’s release, Fensterman said.

In the past, Universal Pictures had a major presence at the show, but the studio won’t be at NYCC this year. Sony, however, has stepped up this year. WBTV has been a regular. Last year, Marvel showed up with the cast of “The Avengers” and exclusive footage. Company doesn’t have a major film to present this year.

“A show like this is a massive test screening,” Fensterman said. “That’s why you come here. These are the people who will make a case for you among the core community. But if you’re across town or across the country, being here won’t matter if you don’t have the right property to show.”

Another facet that differentiates NYCC is the event’s exposure in its host city.

One thing that always proves popular is “zombies, zombies, zombies,” Fensterman says. “You can do anything zombie and (attendees) love it.”

All of NYCC takes place inside the Javits Center and doesn’t spread out into the city’s hotels the way SDCC does. Hollywood also doesn’t spend heavily on advertising around town to get in front of attendees. It’s too cost prohibitive to do so.

“It’s a reflection of the market,” Fensterman said. “Taking out ads on all the MTA buses is different than buying an ad on all the San Diego buses.”

But the growing presence is becoming noticeable.

“It wasn’t until last year when we crossed that 100,000 (attendee) threshold that you could really start to feel the presence of the Con in the city,” Fensterman said. “It’s fun when you’re surrounded by fans in costume in a bar on the other side of the city.”