San Diego Comic-Con began in a hotel with around 300 guests. Over the years it moved into convention halls and has drawn in over 130,000 people per event. As nerd culture has become more widely accepted, conventions across the world have seen a similar rise in popularity. This year that all ground to a halt with the spread of COVID-19. The deadly pandemic has taken public gatherings off the table and forced some conventions to change how they operate.
I have been lucky enough to work at several conventions over the last decade, from Ohio to Philadelphia (no West Coast for me). I witnessed attendance grow and grow to the point that navigating a convention space on a Saturday became a test of endurance. While more attendance meant more high profile guests and events, it also meant that oft sought after Comic-Con Panels became difficult to attend.
It was no longer as easy as arriving at Hall A-Z when a panel began to see your favorite comic creator or B-Movie actor speak. Film and Television studios have garnered such a presence at the events that their panels would take up most of the day, promising big announcements and first glimpses at new footage. Numerous convention goers would sit through several unrelated panels just to ensure they could have a front row seat to see the next trailer for Divergent. Some fans would have to wait in line for a ticket to wait on line again.
This year a lot of conventions were forced to cancel and some decided to move their activities online. Now, attending a panel is as easy as pulling out your phone and opening YouTube. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and could signal a change in the future of conventions. While physically attended panels will likely return when safe to do so (2027?) it will be interesting to see what companies stick to this new format.
DC Comics have already embraced the change. Their DC FanDome event, a digital convention, is set to premiere in August and promises exclusive footage, announcements and interviews. We may also see a rise in independent conventions like JusticeCon, a fan created event that managed to host the likes of Zach and Deborah Snyder and even premiere new footage from the fabled Snyder Cut.
There are, of course, possible downsides to featuring panels online. Potential customers may not want to shell out a hundred dollars to see something live that they could watch on the internet for free. Accessibility may rise but attendance may drop. This is a tricky tight rope for conventions to cross and only time will how well they do. While we’re waiting, I’ll be watching the cast and writers of What We Do In The Shadows discuss the show from the comfort of my couch.
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