THE BLOG

Will Onsite Rebroadcasts of High-profile Panels Solve Comic-Con's Chronic Capacity Problems?

07/18/2013 11:33 am ET | Updated Sep 17, 2013
  • Jim Hill Entertainment journalist and Walt Disney Company expert
AP

What's the biggest surprise that Comic-Con attendees have encountered as they've been arriving in San Diego this week? It isn't that building at the corner of 7th Avenue & J Street which looks like Godzilla attacked it. But -- rather -- the changes that Comic-Con International staffers have made in an effort to make the 2013 edition of this super-sized pop culture fest seem a bit more user-friendly.

Take, for example, how Comic-Con is now trying to get a handle its Hall H & Ballroom 20 capacity problems. These are the cavernous venues at the San Diego Convention Center (which seat 6000 and 4900 attendees, respectively) that most movie studios use when they're looking to hype their next high profile project.

The only problem is that when 130,000 people crowd into this harborside convention center, that can then translate into some hellish long lines outside of Hall H & Ballroom 20. Maybe you recall that news footage from last year's event which showed thousands of Twilight fans who had camped outside of this convention center for a full two days out ahead of Comic-Con's Breaking Dawn - Part 2 panel. All with the hope that -- when the doors finally opened up -- these Twi-hards would then find themselves right down front in Hall H as Taylor Lautner & Robert Pattinson took to the stage.

And while the people who run Comic-Con International think that it's great that there are fans out there who are this passionate about a movie or TV show that they are then willing to make this sort of personal sacrifice in order to guarantee themselves a seat at a particular panel or presentation, this organization also recognizes that not every Comic-Con attendee is willing or even able to do something like this in order to gain access to Hall H or Ballroom 20. Which is why they then began casting about for ways to increase the capacity of this super-popular pop culture event.

Mind you, San Diego officials do have plans to expand this city's already massive convention center by as much as a third. But since the California Coastal Commission has yet to sign off on San Diego's proposed $520 million expansion of this harbor-side structure, this construction project is currently on hold. And even if the CCC does finally allow the City to proceed with this project (the Commission's crucial decision on this proposed expansion could come as early as October), it then wouldn't be 'til 2016 that this venue's new 200,000 - 250,000 square feet of exhibition space, 200,000 square feet of meeting space, and a brand-new 80,000 square foot ballroom would actually come online.

Which isn't going to help the tens of thousands of Comic-Con attendees who'll heading to San Diego over the next three years. Who someday hope to be able to catch a few of those high profile panels that are being presented in Hall H and Ballroom 20 without having to resort to camping out overnight outside. So what is Comic-Con International doing now to alleviate these venues' chronic capacity problems? They're actually borrowing a page from TV's old playbook. Employing a trick that television executives invented back in the early 1950s as a way to pad out their network's summer broadcast schedule.

Yep. You guessed it. Reruns. Starting this evening, Comic-Con International will begin rebroadcasting selectively edited versions some of the more popular Hall H & Ballroom 20 presentations right there onsite for event attendees to view.

Here's how this year's experiment in onsite rebroadcasting is supposed to work: Tonight, Friday night & Saturday night, Comic-Con International will be inviting attendees to drop by Room 25ABC between 8 - 11 p.m. There, Tommy Goldbach -- the assistant to the director of programming for this 4 1/2 day-long event -- will serve as the MC for this democratically-controlled viewing event.

"Why democratically-controlled?," you ask. Well, you see, while Comic-Con generates over 120 hours of original programming each day of this event, only three hours worth of Hall H & Ballroom 20 programming can be rebroadcast each night in Room 25ABC. And the way that Goldbach intends on determining which panels are going to get reprised is by a show of applause by those in attendance.

Which means that -- even with this new Hall H / Ballroom 20 safety net in plan -- there are still going to be some disappointed Comic-Con attendees. And then when you factor in that the movie studios -- reportedly due to security concerns -- has asked that these rebroadcasts only consist of the panel discussions. That all of the exclusive film footage which was screened earlier in the day during these panels' original presentations in Hall H and/or Ballroom 20 be edited out of these after-hours reprises.

But even so, there are a lot of people who have been coming to San Diego every July for years now who are pleased to see Comic-Con International taking this step. Experimenting with this event's tried-and-true formats in an effort to deliver a better overall experience for the next generation of Comic-Con attendees.

And Comic-Con isn't just looking towards its oversized venues as it tries to find ways to reinvent itself. For the 2013 edition of this pop culture show, they're also experimenting with some more intimate experiences.

Take -- for example -- what Comic-Con International is doing this year out on San Diego's Horton Plaza. This is where they'll be introducing their Lyceum Theatre, an intimate venue that deliberately has a small number of seats. All in an effort to give event attendees more of a theatrical experience.

Don't get me wrong. In spite of these changes, Comic-Con is still going to be Comic-Con. I mean, where else on the planet can you go if you suddenly have a hankering to own an officially licensed, totally authentic Star Wars Stormtrooper uniform and you're looking to one-stop-shop an item like that? It's this event's half million square feet of show where hundreds of companies will have booths where attendees can purchase vintage comic books, limited edition collectibles and those one-of-a-kind items that you can only find at Comic Con.

So if you're headed to San Diego this week, expect to find something old AND something new at Comic-Con 2013. And -- again -- I'm not talking about that Godzilla Encounter which Warner Bros. & Legendary Pictures have set up in the heart of this city's Gaslamp Quarter. All of with the hope that -- once Comic-Con attendees tour this temporary exhibit -- they'll then rush on over to the convention center and get online for Saturday morning's panel hyping this Godzilla reboot. Which -- surprise, surprise -- will be presented in the convention center's Hall H.