The DC FanDome event on Saturday was a grand experiment by WarnerMedia to see if DC Comics fans would congregate virtually for what amounted to an eight-hour string of programming about DC’s movies, TV shows and video games.
“We really wanted to put together an event that would super-serve the fans,” Warner Bros. TV group president and chief marketing officer Lisa Gregorian tells Variety.
It appears that experiment was a resounding success.
According to the studio, the DC FanDome: Hall of Heroes event generated 22 million views across 220 countries and territories over its 24-hour run, via the in-house player, livestreams by comic book influencers and other content generated by fans watching the event.
The film, TV and video game trailers released during DC FanDome — including for “Wonder Woman 1984,” “The Batman” and the Snyder Cut of “Justice League” — have pulled in over 150 million views since Saturday.
And DC FanDome trended on Twitter in 53 markets, and on YouTube in 82 markets.
As Gregorian and Blair Rich, president of worldwide marketing for Warner Bros. Pictures Group, explained in an interview with Variety, the idea for DC FanDome first sparked in April, soon after the industry, the country and most of the world had effectively shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With the cancellation of E3 and the inevitable cancellation of San Diego Comic-Con, the studio knew that the traditional methods of fan outreach would not be happening for the foreseeable future.
Rich says then-Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff (who was recently promoted to running WarnerMedia’s studios and networks group) and global brands and experiences president Pam Lifford wanted to figure out how to fill that vacuum.
“What could we invent to really put the fans at the center of an experience that could be dynamic and meaningful to them?” says Rich.
So Rich and Gregorian engaged with as many marketing employees as they could find across every division of the company that drew from DC — film, TV, video games, comic books and consumer marketing — to come up with a way of recreating a fan convention on a virtual stage.
“Many of the employees [were] meeting for the first time,” says Gregorian. “They didn’t even know each other and they all worked for Warner Bros.”
The team quickly resolved to make the event global, broadcasting in nine languages — English, Spanish, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, French, German and Italian — and streaming over 24 hours to allow all audiences a chance to watch at a reasonable time. And with the flat, boxy nature of Zoom calls already becoming ubiquitous, they decided they needed to make the presentation as visually dynamic as possible.
“You could already feel this sort of detachment and the loneliness of COVID, and we thought this could bring fans together,” says Rich. “We wanted it to feel as much as possible as a physical destination and gathering place for fans to celebrate and discover.”
Special kits were shipped to the hosts and panelists who were appearing either solo or with another person that included a green screen and instructions for how to shoot their segments capturing their full bodies, so it could look like they were standing together on the virtual Hall of Heroes stage designed by DC chief creative officer Jim Lee. Larger panels that still needed to happen over videoconference received unique backgrounds to avoid a uniform (and bland) Zoom-y look.
Along with obvious panels covering the upcoming DC movies, TV series and video games — including projects that haven’t started production yet, like “Black Adam” and “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” — DC FanDome also featured several panels focusing on different aspects of minority representation within the DC universe, a commitment that carried over to the 14 hosts of the event from 13 countries.
“When you look at the hosts from all over the world, you want to be part of the show like that,” says Rich. “You want to see yourself in the show.”
All told, Rich and Gregorian say they shot the vast majority of the panels — featuring more than 300 people on camera and roughly 250 behind the scenes — over a two-week period through the end of July, giving the production team just three weeks to assemble everything together. The final assembly for the eight-hour Hall of Heroes event was completed roughly a week before its Aug. 22 debut.
Initially, DC FanDome was conceived as a true virtual Comic-Con, with distinctive areas beyond the Hall of Heroes to showcase merchandise, children’s games and cosplay, as well as breakout panels for DC-based TV shows and animated features. But after the schedule was announced in mid-August, Rich and Gregorian say they immediately picked up on fan feedback that it was all too much to watch in one day.
“I think there was a certain point where Blair and I were just saying, ‘There is just so much programming,'” says Gregorian. The rest of the DC FanDome presentation, dubbed “Explore the Multiverse,” will now debut on Sept. 12 as an on-demand event, with all panels and programming going live at once, allowing viewers to curate their own experience over another 24-hour period.
Once that event concludes, fans won’t be able to view it again.
“If you’re not there, you’re not there,” says Gregorian. “It goes away after 24 hours.”
The execs declined to disclose the budget for DC FanDome. But according to a source with knowledge of the event, the absence of any travel or lodging expenses meant DC FanDome cost Warner Bros. less than they would have spent for a comparable fan event at a live convention like San Diego Comic-Con.
More to the point, there is simply no way a physical event could have matched DC FanDome’s global scope and breadth of talent.
“We reached a lot of fans around the world that we wouldn’t normally be able to reach,” says Gregorian. “We were able to have questions from India answered, or artwork looked at from the Philippines or South Africa, by the talent.”
So it should be no surprise that Warner Bros. plans to do something like DC FanDome again. What that could look like in a post-vaccine world is as uncertain as basically everything else in the industry, but the execs also aren’t ready to forsake physical conventions in favor of virtual ones.
“There’s a place for both,” says Gregorian. “I don’t think one negates the other. I just think that under the circumstances that we were in we were able to come up with a solution for how to stay connected with our fans.”