ConShark

b20line2013When Star Wars Celebration Anaheim began two months ago, thousands of fans packed the Anaheim Convention Center’s Arena (dubbed the Celebration Stage for the event) to watch the kickoff panel: a first look at “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and the premiere of the new trailer. But at home, thousands more were preparing to watch the panel (and the new footage) live streamed on YouTube in HD – upwards of 150,000 fans.

So why can’t San Diego Comic-Con do the same?

In a few weeks, it will happen all over again, on an even bigger scale. Fans will wait in line for 24 hours or more on Thursday and Friday to get inside Hall H, hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars of “The Force Awakens,” “Game of Thrones,” and “The Walking Dead.” If they’re lucky, they’ll make it inside the 6,500 seat room to be rewarded with sneak previews and new trailers (which will be exclusive until the studios decide to post them to YouTube a few days later). They’ll sit in the room all day, until “Star Wars” wraps at 6:30.

A sea of humanity outside Ballroom 20.

A sea of humanity outside Ballroom 20.

And still, thousands more fans will wait outside in the sun all afternoon hoping the trickle of people leaving Hall H will allow them to enter and claim a seat.

This line is already the stuff of legends, and it hasn’t even happened yet. Which leads to the continued requests from both fans with SDCC badges and fans stuck at home: why not live stream?

Comic-Con execs have discussed this publicly in the past: aside, they argue, from the studios not wanting their footage blasted all over the internet, it’s a huge financial investment. The cost of running Playback Room in the Omni last year was $40,000 – that’s just for the operation of the feed, since the room was provided for free by the Omni.

NYCC even advertised their live stream to attendees on site.

NYCC even advertised their live stream to attendees on site.

But earlier this year Comic-Con announced a partnership with Lionsgate to launch an SDCC-branded subscription video-on-demand service. This week, they revealed Legendary Digital veteran Seth Laderman as their CEO, aiming for a release in early 2016. With the initial announcement came hope for many fans that this partnership would include a live stream feature. After all, April’s press release touted “exclusive archived footage from the past 45 years of Comic-Con, films and TV series from Lionsgate and other companies and original video.”

And there’s precedent: Wizard World, a for-profit competitor on the con circuit, has already started their partner channel with Cinedigm. Just last month they began live streaming panels from their conventions. New York Comic Con partnered with Twitch to live stream as early as 2013.

Could Comic-Con charge a fee, less than the cost of a regular badge, for an at-home streaming pass to watch the panels (even sans exclusive footage)? Could they make it part of a Lionsgate-shared subscription service? Sure, but there’s a lot of manpower required behind the scenes. The Lionsgate VOD deal would provide Comic-Con with the infrastructure needed on the distribution end – it doesn’t guarantee help with things on the production side.

Just look – this is the control room now:

swcalivestreamStar Wars Celebration had a corporate sponsor (Verizon) for their live stream, as well as ticket prices that were quite high ($75 for a Saturday ticket). They also had Disney/Lucasfilm money behind them. It’s one thing for “Star Wars” to foot the bill for this arm of their own hype machine: they actually see the profits down the line once the film is released. It’s another for SDCC to be paying for that all on their own.

Charging the studios for the live stream may seem like a good idea – after all, Comic-Con is all about publicity, and what gets the word out better than 200,000 people? (The Star Wars Celebration panel and trailer release was so big, it trended twice on Twitter and raised Disney stock by 1%.)

Studios spend a lot of money at SDCC - surely this Gotham zip line wasn't cheap.

Studios spend a lot of money at SDCC – surely this Gotham zip line wasn’t cheap.

Many of the studios post footage of their panel and/or new clips or trailers on their own YouTube channels after the panel is over. The revenue from ads on that channel go to the studio. How do you incentivize a live stream for them? Comic-Con is already a pricey chunk of their marketing budget; how do you convince them to make it bigger?

If the entire bill was being footed by SDCC and the studios were allowing them to replay the footage for free, there wouldn’t be much of an issue with either the fee for a streaming ticket or advertising revenue. The problem of convincing the studios to let the panels & footage be aired, though, is a big one.

SWCA.15

Lucasfilm manages more than a brand: it’s a sub-culture.

The quality of the Star Wars Celebration live stream was impeccable – hi-def picture and sound with high production values and nearly no signal issues. But then, we’re talking about Lucasfilm, a company with an entire department called “fan relations.” It’s fair to argue that they value their franchise’s brand as a whole a little more highly than other studios value each individual film they drag to SDCC. It’s not just one film Lucasfilm sees a return on. It’s all 10+ films, it’s merch sales, it’s part of every Disney theme park. So what’s a million bucks on a four-day live stream but a drop in the bucket that is the marketing budget?

Perhaps the real power player here could have been Marvel, who has a strong enough brand that would last long enough to potentially justify the investment in something like a live stream. But there again we have the Disney hype machine – why pour that money into Comic-Con when they could do it at their own biennial D23 Expo?

Warner Bros. could reach the point in the future where their slate of DC superhero films is big enough that it’s worth the money to reinforce the brand through a live stream. But that culture isn’t strong enough yet. WB is a studio that’s still figuring out their hype machine: Marvel announced their next phase of films to frantically live-tweeting journalists during an exclusive event. DC announced theirs on a shareholders conference call.

If Comic-Con was able to set up the infrastructure in the halls to live stream and then offered it to each studio (for a fee) for them to stream through their own service, maybe there’d be some takers. But Comic-Con is already the biggest pop culture convention in the world (if not in raw attendance numbers, as NYCC will argue, than it’s at least a household name). That’s a huge undertaking for very little return to SDCC.

Huddle up and make friends!

Huddle up and make friends!

Tellingly, CCI executives have also mentioned another reason to eschew live streaming: they like the con community. CCI President John Rogers has even mentioned that he doesn’t believe the purpose of attending Comic-Con should be to see panels; it should be to meet and spend time with like-minded people. As  commercial as the show has become, the staff still believes that it’s about sharing the joy of finding your tribe. It’s a show that’s as much about the friends you make in that long line as the celebrities you see once you make it inside. Obviously, this element can’t be replicated online.

All that said, a live stream isn’t impossible, and it shouldn’t be out of the question. Adding that feature could weed out some attendees who are only interested in panels and not in the community, as Rogers would seem to prefer. It would be a kindness towards those who are unable to travel, whether because of physical or financial inability. It would put Comic-Con on the level of other conventions with massive production values.

But you’d better start packing your sleeping bag, because it won’t be happening any time soon.

 

Would you prefer a Comic-Con live stream? Do you think there’s a way to make live-streaming work for SDCC? Let us know in the comments.