You can't be an entertainment news outlet of any sort without planning a (very expensive) trip to San Diego Comic-Con each July.
A convention that started out with just a few hundred people sharing their love of comic books, this event has become a huge economic boost to the San Diego community bringing in more than 100,000 people each year to celebrate not just comic books and science-fiction, but pretty much all television and movies worth mentioning.
Each year, the convention grows even more. In 2009, some panels started popping up at a hotel or two just outside the convention center. Today, those hotels are just as busy as the convention center itself, with full schedules, and thousands of people traveling all over the downtown area to attend Comic-Con functions.
I reluctantly went to my first Comic-Con in 2008. I knew that more and more of the programs we cover on Airlock Alpha were being featured at the convention. But I live in Tampa, Fla., and a cross-country flight and overpaying for hotel rooms is not my idea of a good time in the middle of the summer.
But I'm glad I started to go, because I actually look forward to Comic-Con. I honestly don't know how organizers do it -- shepherding all these people around, making everything run smoothly, and with minimal problems. In fact, I believe they pull off a minor miracle.
However, even they must sit back after each one and think about how this convention has become way too big. And really, it has.
Being a member of the media, I end up attending press events, usually roundtable press conferences with the actors and writers of the television shows and movies we cover. These are invitation-only, so there are no lines to wait. However, the thought of even standing in line to get into a panel room -- it makes me almost panic, despite the fact that some very newsworthy things happen in these panels that I wish I could attend more of.
This past year, Rabid Doll editor Bryant Griffin and I made our trek to the convention, and I asked him not to stand in any lines for panels. We had enough press events to fill our schedule, and we needn't waste any time standing in lines. To me, panels are designed for the fans, and fans should be filling these rooms, not media.
But like me, Bryant is a huge fan of "Game of Thrones." In fact, it's because of him that Airlock Alpha was covering this show when it was early in development and almost no news outlets were paying attention. He wanted to attend the "Game of Thrones" panel in Ballroom 20, and got in line three hours ahead of time, believing he could get in about an hour or two later, and then just work on his laptop from his seat inside the convention center.
Bryant did make it in the convention center -- more than four hours later, and after the "Game of Thrones" panel. he didn't get to hear or see anything that happened in the panel, because the rooms are designed to hold just a few thousand people -- a small percentage of the actual full attendance of Comic-Con.
I'm not suggesting that Comic-Con find bigger rooms, logistics just don't work that way. But there must be ways that people can still enjoy the panels, even if they don't make it in.
Last year, I attended Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando (and by the way, it's coming back to Orlando in August), and I was impressed by many aspects of that convention. The biggest was how freely people could move about, despite the fact that the Orange County Convention Center was quite packed.
Even more, I was sad that I couldn't stand in line overnight to see George Lucas and Jon Stewart yack it up about Star Wars. Unless you were willing to put your iPad line-waiting skills to use, you were not getting in that room. But you didn't have to. All the monitors around the convention center broadcast a feed of the panel, and there were hundreds of people gathered around these flat screens to watch what Lucas had to say.
People attending Celebration who were not willing to wait in line, or who just couldn't get in, still felt like they were getting an excellent value, because they still had a chance to experience the panel.
Comic-Con, on the other hand, provides video screens of what's happening on stage -- but only for those already sitting in the audience. There are no feeds going anywhere else. Not into the hallways. Not into the line of people standing outside. Not even into a media room.
The chief complaint I hear about Comic-Con is not that it's crowded. It's that it's almost impossible to attend any of the major panels unless you're willing to give up your entire day to stand in line. While I'm sure we'd all like to be in the same room as George R.R. Martin has he talks about Winterfell and the Stark family, many would most likely be happy with the chance to at least get to hear and see what they are saying.
Reporters like Bryant and me could even pull ourselves out of line, making room for fans, by watching a feed elsewhere, likely in a media room, or even on a closed Internet stream. It's not a major technical obstacle for Comic-Con -- they would have to rent a bunch of televisions and have them set up, but they already have cameras and audio equipment in each room. Creating feeds to go outside the room is nothing more than flipping a couple switches.
Hell, Comic-Con has no problem selling out tickets each year, so why not even offer those who can't go to San Diego a chance to attend the convention virtually with online feeds for like $30 a person, or something that is reasonable to subscribers that still more than cover bandwidth costs to provide such a service?
I don't expect to see Comic-Con downsize anytime soon. The demand to attend, even with problems getting into panels, is very strong. And I don't blame anyone. It's an exciting and fun time, and a chance to share your love of the genre with about 140,000 of your closest friends.
But Comic-Con really needs to find a way to stop thinking it's a few hundred comic book enthusiasts getting together to talk shop. They have to acknowledge their size, and utilize technology that will make the convention accessible to so many more people. And then, Comic-Con truly could rule the world.
Photo courtesy of Parka Blogs
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