I’ve never been to San Diego Comic Con. I may never go because yeah, crowds … not so fond of those. I adore, however, all the stuff that comes out of a con of that size and how easy it is to access it online. Each year media providers are more willing to share outside of the constraints of the convention hall. The Doctor Who series 9 trailer, for example, was available online before it was shown to the people on the floor.
The arts and entertainment industry is experiencing a paradigm shift and I maintain it is a welcome one. The community is less insular, the audience reach broader, the ways in which content is viewed less controlled. This is a scary thing for those who mete out content because there is so much unpredictability in the response they may receive. Information travels at lightning speed these days and bad advance word-of-mouth can kill a project’s chances long before the finished product is ever released.
Yet only allowing a select group of people predisposed to like something to view your content creates considerable backlash. The BBC learned this the hard way when they held back the trailer for Doctor Who Series 8. It was shown at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con but did not appear online until much later. This led to much grousing by fans and contributed to feelings of unease which is not what you want to cultivate as you try to introduce a new Doctor.
There is a delicate balance of trust between creator and audience and sometimes each one demands too much of the other. Giving up control is not easy but I think it is ultimately more rewarding. This year San Diego Comic Con released full recordings of several panels on youtube quite soon after they happened. Bootleg video was available in the past but the fact that the people who participate in and run these events are now recognizing the benefit of seeking out a wider audience beyond that of the convention attendees is telling.
What does this mean for the future of cons? Will easy access to what was once exclusive content discourage people from taking on the expense of attending a con? I doubt it. Cons are about more than trailers and panels, they are about experience. Where else do you get to spend time with so many members of your tribe? To be surrounded by people who not only understand what you love but encourage you to love it more? You can find this online of course and that is a wonderful thing. But there is always a certain distance between online interactions that is erased when sharing an experience in person.
I will be attending my first con in February 2016. Well actually that’s not true. When I was about 12 I went to a Star Trek convention in Jacksonville Florida. It was tiny, maybe a couple hundred people if that, most of them in some variant of a Star Trek uniform. They showed us the original pilot and a blooper reel. Gene Roddenberry gave a speech. It was fantastic.
I’m 50 now and grateful I haven’t lost the sense of wonder I felt when I was 12 and given the opportunity to see one of my heroes in person. I expect to have similar feelings when I hopefully have a chance to meet Sarah Dollard at Gallifrey One, a new female scriptwriter for Doctor Who Series 9. It will also be the first time I meet a fellow podcaster from Earth Station Who. That’s what I’m willing to brave the crowds for – the chance to meet online friends in person and celebrate the people who create my favorite stories.
Cons do not need to be exclusive or elitist to solicit particpation. That way of thinking was working against them and alienating the broader fanbase. Art and stories are meant to be shared and it is a refreshing change to find media providers recognizing that fact and reaching out to the online audience as well.