SDCC 2014: Talk Back Recap

At the bottom of the Comic-Con schedule is the Talk Back, hidden in a tiny room and overlooked by the vast majority of attendees. Sometimes these discussions are extremely productive; sometimes they feel like a town hall meeting straight out of Parks and Recreation. Yesterday, CCI president John Rogers kindly sat down in front of a very long line of unhappy attendees to hear their concerns. So long, in fact, that the talk back ran 2 hours and didn’t conclude until after the convention center was officially closed.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of complaints involved disabled services. Every year, at every CCI show, this is the top issue at the talk back. This year’s points:

  • The now-annual pleas for the creation of some kind of disabled attendee advisory committee.
  • A problem with misinformed security & staff sending disabled attendees back and forth across the convention center to pick up badges.
  • Disabled attendees waiting for exhibit hall entrance in the mornings (at Hall D) not being admitted at the same time as those from the Sails Pavilion.
  • Not having enough deaf and/or disabled seating in programming rooms.
  • Disabled attendees being forced to camp out for Hall H on Saturday but not receiving wristbands.

If you thought your Saturday Hall H line experience was miserable, try being disabled: according to one person, who is a registered attendant for a disabled attendee, the wristbands for the disabled Hall H line were not given out to all in line; she described it as being selective of those who were less ambulatory. She, as an attendant, did not even get a wristband. Once admitted into the Hall H lobby around 9am, attendants were separated from their disabled attendees; the attendees were let into the Hall alone while attendants were made to wait in a separate area and told it might be as late as 4:00pm before the attendants were allowed in the Hall. The attendee who made this complaint at the talk back says she was finally let into Hall H about 90 minutes after her disabled attendee, and was made to find her attendee in the dark as the program had already started.

Speaking of wristbands, those were a top issue – though attendees sounded divided on whether they were a good or bad feature. Since the talk back is usually full of complaints, not compliments, most of the comments were negative. Most of the comments fell into the “nice idea, poor execution” category: timing caused a hysteria over arriving before 1:00am; wristbands should be numbered to ensure order; people with wristbands should be sent away until morning to reduce congestion. And on the topic of Friday night’s abrupt policy change requiring your entire party to remain camped out overnight, Rogers said that was an unauthorized on-the-spot decision by security, not a CCI policy change. There were, however, several people who stepped up to the microphone to praise the system, saying it made their line experience better.

Naturally, if you give a mouse a wristband, he’s going to ask about a line. Early lines, unofficial lines, camping lines, excessively long lines – all were brought up. Rogers commented, “I wish I knew a good way to kill the unofficial line.” It’s clear that CCI is at a slight loss of what to do about early line-ups, as Rogers mentioned their dislike of them but also their inability to prevent people from simply standing around in the “one spot on the earth” where CCI can’t police them. Rogers himself admitted that they have considered the idea of confiscating the badges of repeat offenders; several attendees commented that even confiscating a small handful of badges would be enough to set an example. Other suggestions included posting a uniformed police officer rather than hired goons, er, event security.

The topic of exclusive footage in the Playback room was raised, with one attendee demanding Rogers “take a stand” against studios and networks that refuse to share the footage in the CCI-controlled environment. Rogers said they encourage all the companies hosting panels to share their footage with the Playback room, but all refuse – even AMC, who Rogers called out because their “exclusive” trailer for The Walking Dead was posted online shortly after it was screened in Hall H.

Rounding out the programming complaints, the issue of giving away/reselling bathroom passes was brought up; reportedly bathroom (or re-entry) passes for the larger rooms, particularly Hall H, were going for $50-$75 on Twitter. Rogers mentioned the con’s previous failed experiment with scanning badges instead of handing out easily-resold paper slips, but scanning was too slow and felt invasive. Another attendee suggested a hand stamp. Other complaints included too-small rooms (specifically for Buzz Aldrin’s panel on Thursday) and a request to schedule the most popular panels (specifically Marvel) earlier in the day; programming director Eddie Ibrahim countered by saying Marvel specifically requests their late Saturday time slot.

Did the extra-long paper badges sticking out of the plastic badge holder annoy you? It annoyed someone enough to bring it up at the talk back, and the response was interesting: it was intentional. John Rogers’ responded, “Where you see a bug, we saw a feature.” The holograms on the badges were relocated this year to cover the barcodes. This is because unscrupulous exhibitors often try to scan attendee’s badge barcodes without their permission, and the barcodes contain all your personal information including your home address. However, CCI realized that you sometimes do want to have your badge scanned, and it was much easier to pull the paper out of the plastic if they left that extended edge on top.

On the show floor, attendees were concerned about booths selling exclusives to exhibitors and allowing those with exhibitor badges to line up before general attendees are allowed in. Rogers said the con discourages this but that it’s ultimately up to the booths to regulate these lines. Another fan expressed genuine concern over the crowds on Preview Night rushing to get to the floor, saying this was the first year he felt swept away by the crush of people and feared a dangerous stampede. Outside, someone requested “entrance only” signs to help guide people to the correct entrance door at the convention center.

As always, many attendees complained about the difficulty everyone has in purchasing tickets, long-time attendees asked for some kind of preference in the lottery system, and the request to be able to see where you are in line in the online waiting room was mentioned.

And international attendees, take heart: one of your own stood up to complain about the hotel and badge registration forms that are not friendly to non-American addresses and phone numbers.

In the miscellaneous “I’m impressed you were willing to wait in line for 2 hours to express this comment” category: a story about security calling EMTs to help an attendee who suffered a seizure; asking about WonderCon 2015 dates (which were announced on page 43 of the Events Guide); asking CCI to force the fire marshall to change the rules about lines in the exhibit hall; requesting additional “one-way only” signage in the upstairs programming hallways; asking CCI to demand offsite event organizers order enough swag for everyone (specifically, “one to two million t-shirts, and sell the leftovers online later”). The winner for strangest answer from John Rogers was his response to a request for free (studio or network sponsored) device recharging lockers, to which he said he was “scared” of those stations as he fears a battery explosion risk.

And with that, San Diego Comic-Con 2014 came to a close; we’ll have to wait until next year to see if Comic-Con finds solutions to any of these problems. Until then, we’re happy to listen to the problems you encountered this year.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Thanks for the report! I wish I had been able to attend the talkback, but my 10+ hour drive home takes precedence.

    One issue I didn’t see raised was the shuttles/shuttle schedules. My hotel was on the Blue line and the busses routinely ran 25-35 minutes, rather than the posted “every 15 minutes” they were also at capacity multiple times throughout the day, with miserable fans stuck waiting in line for a lot longer than expected, only to have the bus fill up. I saw multiple fans turned away and have to wait for the next bus at both the hotels on the way to the convention center, and again on the way back. If the busses had been running closer together, that might have felt more ok, but since they were super slow, it seems extra egregious.

    Adding insult to injury, I spoke with a lady from the shuttle company while waiting for a bus that came after 25+ minutes. She was taking it to get down the to convention center and get to work and commented about the delay. When we got on the bus, she asked the driver how many busses they had on the blue line. The answer: only 3. No wonder they weren’t able to run on time! She also mentioned that she had seen the CCI orders for busses, and saw that they had ordered significantly less busses this year vs. last.

    • The shuttles have never been on time. They have to fight traffic just like cars. Any time that I’ve taken a shuttle I end up getting off as soon as it gets on Harbor and walking. And I always beat the shuttle there. The trolley is so much easier if you can get to a stop.

      My only frustration was chaos as booths because every person as the Hasbro Toy Shop booth was doing something different. Nothing that CCI can control.

  • I’m glad that disabled services was brought up in the conversation. We were sent back and forth from door to door every single day! It was miserable to add all the additional walking in the heat and waiting in lines that were let in later than others because the people working security had no idea what a disabled sticker meant. It was ESPECIALLY frustrating when the guards in Lobby A, where disabled services was, refused to let us in to get to disabled services, even once we had the sticker!! Ridiculous! We had to walk down to lobby C before someone let us in the building, by which point I just took a seat on the floor because I couldn’t make it back to Lobby A to sit.

    I also completely disagree with the idea that there is no way to disband an unofficial line. Don’t sanction it, period. Send out security, tell them the line is not official and will not be let in. If people continue to sit there, then have security hold the line there at 8pm when the official line is supposed to begin and confiscate their badges. Plain and simple. The idea that the crowd will rise up isn’t a problem if you disband it early instead of standing around with your head up your *** and allowing it to continue beyond a reasonable number of people. I blame security 100%.

  • I am a disabled attendee and thought that the RA group and CCI were brilliant this year. Not having enough disabled seats is not quite true. They have more than the ADA requires and allowed us to sit in any seat we wanted. The able bodied were not allowed to sit in the red seats designated for us, but we were allowed to take any seat in the Hall. Our attendants were never separated from us, that defeats the point so I don’t know why they’d do that. I was in Hall H Thurs, Fri and Sat and it ran just as smooth all three days.

    My complaints would be:
    – ADA not being let into the exhibit hall at the same time. They should let us in 5 minutes early so we don’t get trampled. people fell last year as we were pushed through the doors after being let in late.
    – Lack of seating inside the exhibit hall. There is probably seating for less than 100 people when tens of thousands of us are roaming the hall.