The Age of the Fan: Exclusive Content Rules Comic Con 2015
by Reena Leone
Marvel Studios always draws massive Comic Con crowds to the infamous Hall H, the largest conference room in the San Diego Convention Center that can hold just over 6,000 attendees. So it came as a shock to me that several major studios, including Marvel, would be sitting this one out. Also skipping out on Comic Con were Sony Pictures and Paramount, both of which have had a big presence in previous years.
Some news outlets viewed this as a major shift and even went as far as speculating that movie studios no longer seeing value in attending Comic Con. However, as an attendee of the show, I can tell you from first-hand experience that is not so. The decision for Marvel Studios, Sony Pictures and Paramount to skip Comic Con this year, in my opinion, actually had to do with keeping their audiences happy.
Everything at Comic Con is (or tries to be) exclusive: limited releases of toys, action figures and art prints, VIP access to celebrities, and even securing a badge to attend pop culture’s biggest extravaganza is tough to come by. But perhaps the greatest and most coveted thing that Comic Con offers is exclusive content. Don’t believe me? Ask any of the Hall H hopefuls who camped out overnight outside of the San Diego Convention Center in order to attend panels for their favorite TV shows and upcoming movies.
When I say “camped out” I mean that literally–thousands of people in sleeping bags and folding chairs that stretched far beyond the convention center grounds. Some waiting in line for 8-14 hours without any guarantee of securing a Hall H wristband, which was the only confirmation that’d you’d make it inside the doors.
Why would anyone want to do this? The answer is to be the first to see movie trailers, new TV show clips, and ask Hollywood’s hottest start your burning questions. After all that waiting, studios need make it worth it; to go above and beyond to wow their fans. If they don’t have the footage or guests to do that, then their presence can actually hurt the properties they want to promote.
Comic Con is the ultimate hype builder, but the pendulum can swing both ways. Show an amazing new trailer or behind-the-scenes footage and win the praises of your fans. Show something that they’ve seen before or provide nothing new and face their wrath.
While it’s pretty much been established that we, the general public, will gobble up anything Marvel Studios puts in front of us (Chris Pratt, a talking racoon and living tree in space? Sign me up!), this year’s show did not align with their Marvel Cinematic Universe release schedule (though it’s worth noting that Marvel was still a major show presence with their TV shows and you know, actual comic books). Avengers: Age of Ultron was just released a couple months ago. Ant-Man comes out this weekend and so much footage has already been released. Captain America: Civil War has just begun filming and it’s fair to assume there might not be enough footage to string together even a teaser. Plus, it doesn't come out for another year.
Both Paramount and Sony Pictures have a whole bunch of films on the horizon, but most of the titles don’t align with the Comic Con audience. In previous years, Sony had The Amazing Spider-Man, but since licensing the rights back to Marvel, the first glimpse won’t happen until Civil War promotion picks up. Though Sony Pictures’ subsidiary Screen Gems (best known for churning out all those Resident Evil movies) was there with Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, there just wasn’t enough for their usual panel block.
However, even without three major studios, there was no shortage of amazing content. While Marvel might have been absent, another one of Disney’s properties was present: a little sci-fi franchise called Star Wars. Fresh off of Star Wars Celebration, a convention dedicated entirely to the Star Wars that took place a few months ago, fans wondered what they would have to show. They just released a second trailer. They just did a full cast panel. What could make this special? Disney/Lucasfilms did not disappoint. In addition to a full cast panel, complete with original trilogy stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, they also put together a 3-minute behind-the-scenes video that showcased their use of practical effects and dedication to making show Episode VII: The Force Awakens has the same magic as the first three films.
But that wasn’t all! At the end of the panel, director JJ Abrams had an additional surprise: a private concert in a nearby park for everyone in attending the panel! All 6000 fans walked down the street where they were treated to the original Star Wars score by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.
Disney wasn’t the only studio to win over fans this year. Warner Bros. was there, armed with the first full trailer for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The trailer, which finally shared some plot points (and the first real look at Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman!) was a huge hit with audiences. It also helped that the night before the panel, director Zack Snyder treated fans camping out to a first look at the new Batmobile...by driving it behind the convention center where they were lined up. But that wasn’t WB’s only hit. They came armed with another blockbuster trailer for the upcoming Suicide Squad film. This was the first actual footage of the film, which is still in production. However, while this trailer was supposed to be an exclusive first look for Comic Con attendees, the footage was leaked, causing Warner Bros. to release the actual trailer sooner than they had planned. Rather than let the low-quality leaked version represent their highly anticipated film, they quickly released the HD trailer.
In addition to seeing things first, both trailers seem to have taken audiences comments into account. Where is Wonder Woman? Oh there she is. Are they going to address the massive property damage Superman caused in Man of Steel? Yes, and that’s a major part of the Batman vs. Superman story. What does Jared Leto’s portrayal of The Joker really look like?’ There it is and it’s terrifying.
Studios are showing that they listen to audience feedback and are giving fans what they want. Another example of this was Fox’s Deadpool trailer, a rare example of a comic book film with an R-rating. Fans loved it so much they started chanting “one more time!” to which they happily obliged. Unfortunately for Fox, this trailer was also leaked and according to star Ryan Reynolds, the official version won’t be released for another three weeks while the VFX are completed. Chances are it will be a red-band trailer, much to delight of Deadpool fans everywhere; they don’t call him the Merc with a Mouth for nothing!
We often talk about living in the Age of the Customer, but media companies are living in the Age of the Fan, which in some cases can be even harder. Fans are fickle, they are extremely knowledgeable about the things they love and they expect media companies to do right by them. Fandom needs to be taken seriously as it can make or break you before you get your release out the door. When it comes to content, studios need to strike the right balance between honoring the material and putting a fresh spin on it. But it was evident at Comic Con that they are doing just that and winning over the masses.