At this point in the annual comic convention season calendar, all questions as to whether or not one has gotten a ticket or a hotel room for Comic-Con International in San Diego are well in the rear view. The question now stands: What are you going to do there, and how will you survive the massive amount of events, creators and art on display?
This year, while the size of the show remains consistent with past events, attendees are expecting some changes to how their show goes including a more strict watch on badges when entering the convention center and changes to Hall H’s Hollywood programming.
CBR News went to Comic-Con Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer for the full scoop on these and other issues including the encroachment of other events on San Diego this weekend and the fate of the Comic-Con organization’s other shows such as WonderCon and what its Anaheim debut means for its future.
CBR News: David, it’s crunch time for Comic-Con both for attendees and for your staff. What do you view as the major challenges and concerns for this year considering that the show is holding around the same size and shape as year’s past until a convention center expansion can take place?
David Glanzer: We always look to try and make the show run smoother. Each year after the event, we always have a major debriefing to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and we always try to implement ideas that can mitigate some scenarios we faced the year before. One of the things we’ve experienced this year that helps us out a bit is having some additional meeting space at hotels for programming. That’s a big help. There are also other events that are starting to pop up in the downtown area that we don’t know anything about, and I don’t think those are really much of an issue, but there are more and more things happening. I think there’s a chance that some of that could be good for our attendees, but I do worry that it will encourage more and more people to come into the downtown area, which has already been heavily impacted. But we’re trying to get a handle on everything. It’s a big ship, and we want to make sure we stay on course.
You mention those unaffiliated off-site events, and I think things like Tr!ckster can be pretty modest in size while, say, Warner Bros. TV throwing up their own programming has the potential to be a much bigger thing. Do people on those ends of the spectrum reach out to at least let you know what they’re attempting to do around the show?
Some of it is sanctioned, and some of it is not, to be honest. Some of this we find out about afterwards. We try to work closely with some of the people so that if events pull some people off the floor at certain times, it can maybe make for a more comfortable event inside the convention center. But we have to be careful of counter programming. It doesn’t help us if people have spent money on coming to attend Comic-Con, and then those guests they want to see appear elsewhere. The smaller events, I think they end up being more value added. And the ones we work with help us be sure to counter-program properly. It’s the events that we don’t know about until a call from a reporter comes in saying, “There’s this event coming in” that are tough. We have to try and wrap our heads around it when we find out about some of this stuff sometimes very late in the game. In that way, we’re along for the ride with everyone else.
This may be projecting a bit, but I know there are other spaces near downtown including a smaller convention space that conceivably someone could put on their own small scale con not in competition with Comic-Con but alongside it. Have you discussed what your plan would be to respond to a show that would try and ride in the wake of your event?
We certainly wouldn’t be happy about that. I think the fact of the matter is that we have an amazing comics lineup, and our really big enemy is just that people who want to attend aren’t able to. It ends up being a situation where we love being in San Diego and throwing this event, but if fans say they don’t like the event or don’t want us to be in this space, we’d have to listen to that. But right now, things seem very happy in this space, and as other people put on their own events, so far nothing’s been counter-productive to attendees. So I don’t think we’ll have much of an issue.
One big topic of conversation has been Comic-Con’s announcement that you’ll be keeping a stronger eye on badges this year to make sure people who are trying to come in have actually procured a ticket. That’s an issue that makes a lot of sense but also has people kind of nervous as they’re wont to do. From your point of view, what’s the real change there?
As you can imagine, this isn’t something that any of us want to do. It’s not something we look forward to doing. It’s just a safety issue. The problem we’ve had is that there are always people who buy and sell badges, and we’ve frowned upon that. But the real issue is when people start trying to sell badges that don’t exist. The fire marshall puts a very close eye on how we produce our event, and for 43 conventions, we’ve had a very good relationship with police, fire departments and members of the city. The problem comes when we’ve allocated X amount of badges knowing we can accommodate X amount of people in the facility. When security starts pulling badges that are clear fakes – some of which may be several badges with the same name on them – that throws off our count, then we don’t know how many people are in the building. And that’s something we never want to have to deal with. So it’s on us to make sure that everybody who has a badge on is supposed to have a badge and that they’re name shows that’s so. Last year after the show, we went through the confiscated badges we’d found and realized this was an issue.
The other big question around the show is Hall H and its status both in terms of traffic and events. People are always asking, “Is this studio coming to Hall H, and what does it mean?” We know you’re kicking off with the “Twilight” panel, which I assume is to help cut down on that franchise’s fans camping out all weekend.
Yeah, and I think we did that last year as well. It’s funny because every year some studios come and some sit out, but I think sometimes people read an article’s headline about this without reading the story. There was an article last year or the year before about the return on investment from some studios -Â and I think Universal was mentioned in particular -Â was so low that their participation in the 2011 Comic-Con would be scaled down. And it ended up being the opposite!
The truth is, not every studio comes every year. Not every exhibitor returns every year. Sometimes they have products they want to showcase, and sometimes they don’t. It really depends on the exhibitor, and that’s true of all companies and projects.
How has this slate of programming in Hall H and across all the sites you have shaped up for this year?
We try to anticipate the popularity of an event, and I think that some of the events that used to be in Ballroom 20 may now be in Hall H. If we see that the crowd is growing for something, we try to accommodate. We’ve got a great deal of experience doing this, and we don’t always get everything right, but we’ve been able to gauge interest well, I think, even on some first time events. We’ve put things in the bigger halls because we think there will be a lot of interest, and because of that, we were able to accommodate the crowds. Some people have been saying this year, unfairly I think, “Oh, someone’s been relegated to this hall or that hall.” We don’t think of it that way at all. We try to put people in the space that fits that project well, and if somebody moves to a smaller hall, it doesn’t mean that project is any less popular. But it may just be scheduled against an incredibly popular panel where the audience gets split or some fans are siphoned off to another panel. These things happen for a reason. I always say that programming is like a Rubick’s Cube -Â if you move one thing, you’ve got to move everything around to accommodate it.
CCI isn’t the only show you put on, and people have continued to wonder about WonderCon, which we know may not return to San Francisco’s Moscone Center for at least another year. Any word on whether a second Anaheim show is in the offing?
Right now, our next show is APE in San Francisco, and we’re neck deep into Comic-Con. We’re still trying to figure dates for WonderCon, and our intent is to go back to San Francisco. The show in Anaheim was very successful, and I don’t want to say we were surprised by it, but I think we were a little pleasantly surprised by how it went. Still, right now everything is still in flux and we’re so headlong into Comic-Con that it’s taken a back seat.
Have you discussed the possibility of adding to the organization’s schedule and making an Anaheim event a permanent show of its own?
With the exception of Comic-Con we’ve actually never started a show. Both APE and WonderCon were shows where the founders didn’t have the ability to proceed how they wanted, so they asked for our assistance. That isn’t to say that we can’t. I don’t know what the answer to that question is. The audience certainly seemed to come out for WonderCon [in Anaheim]. I think the numbers were a little shy of what the numbers were in 2011, which were around 50,000. And one of the exhibitors said to me, “I don’t know why you’re thinking of the Anaheim show as a continuation of the other show. You came into a new venue and a new city. You should look at that as year one of a stand alone show, and for a first year show, it was pretty amazing.” He has a good point. With WonderCon, we’d love to be back in San Francisco, and right now that’s what we’re striving for, but beyond that anything’s possible.
Stay tuned to CBR all week for more on Comic-Con International 2012.