Monday, August 22, 2011

D23 Expo v. Comic-Con!

We went to D23 Expo this weekend –Disney’s own version of Comic-Con.  Being a Comic-Con (and various other con) vet, I was surprised to learn that most of my best Comic-Con strategies were pretty useless, much to my chagrin, and I ended up with a new appreciation for Comic-Con, their programming, their staff and their structure. 

[This does not mean I won’t still complain when I have to get in line at 4:45AM for 2013 Comic-Con tickets.] 

Of course, Comic-Con has way, way more panels, programming, guests, exhibitors, events, and yes, attendees – but there is a certain egalitarian vibe to the whole affair.  I go into more detail below, but suffice it to say: at Comic-Con, time is the only currency you have.  At the D23 Expo, cash is king. D23 Expo could take a few notes from Comic-Con’s playbook:

1.      Don’t clear the room after panels. The conventions I’ve gone to have never forced everyone to clear the room after each panel and I’m not sure why D23 does.  It’s not Star Tours.  You don’t have to exit the ride when the panel is done. Clearing the room has a certain needless authoritarian vibe.  It also makes it virtually impossible to see panels back-to-back.  I personally would have loved to go to the “Once Upon A Time” presentation in room 23, but it was right before the “A Conversation with the Pixar Creative Team” panel, so I had to skip it.  I’m certain I wasn’t the only one.  I know people tend to “camp out” in conference rooms when they aren't cleared, but really, what’s the harm in that? If people are allowed to panel squat, Disney also wouldn’t need an additional room to pen us all in for hours on end.  Wouldn’t it have been better for me, from Disney’s perspective, to sit through additional sales pitches – I mean panel presentations – rather than sprawl out in a huge, overly air-conditioned room with 650 other people who had nothing else to do but complain about the D23 Expo on Twitter?

2.      Break Up the Big Studio Presentation into individual presentations. D23 has one large presentation that includes all the upcoming films from Walt Disney Studios, such as “Muppets,” “John Carter,” “The Avengers,” and “Brave.”  If Disney's not going to get rid of the 'clear the room after each panel’ rule, they should break up the giant Studio presentation so that each upcoming film has its own panel. Quite frankly, they should do this anyway. This would help whittle down the huge crush of people, would be more beneficial to their attendees in terms of scheduling and give Disney more panels/product to push.   The people who got into the “Inside the Walt Disney Studios” presentation, of whom virtually none were General Admission (more on that below) were in line by, I think, 8:30AM.  And the presentation went on until about 1:30 PM.  I don’t know if this included the time it took to give everyone’s phones back. (All these are guesstimates, since I was GA and didn’t get in.  But I’m here to help, not to hold a grudge.) My point is that 5 hours – which is a conservative estimate – is a long time to hold people’s attention, not to mention a long time to hold people, period. Stretching out the panels would also make it appear that there are more of them. Will that mean that less people will go to the “John Carter” panel? Maybe.  But maybe not if D23 were to follow the above tip and schedule it right before “The Avengers” panel.  Panel squatters are a captive audience too.

3.      We need to talk about the Stratification of your ticket levels.  I don’t think anyone from General Audience got into the Big Studio Presentation, regardless of how early they got in line.  Quite frankly, I should have paid the $35 for a D23 membership, and I’ll take the hit for that.  Had I known there was virtually NO CHANCE that I would get in without it, I most certainly would have forked over the money.  Most cons have some level of VIP passes/tickets.  But Disney has 3? Really, 3? Sorcerer’s Level tickets cost $1,000.  One thousand dollars?! Honestly, if they found people willing to pay $1,000, Disney should by all means take their money.  I don’t have any real solutions to this, but I do think 3 levels is probably 2 too many.  And the General Admission folks should be made aware of the limitations of their ticket.  Honestly, that’s in Disney's interest too – more of them will probably buy D23 memberships if they know how much they need them, and the ones that don’t will hopefully be less disappointed since they’re been forewarned.
       And I get that Comic-Con is a non-profit organization and Disney is not.  But having so many levels in the Disneyfied caste system leaves many people with either a bitter taste and/or an empty wallet.  I heard from numerous sources that at more than one panel the Sorcerer and Premiere ticketholders were booed as they were escorted to their seats.  I don’t condone that behavior, of course – personally I think paying $1,000 for guaranteed seats to panels of mixed quality along with some limited edition merchandise is its own punishment – but that’s the “let them eat cake” environment Disney is creating.  That can't be very beneficial to the Disney brand.

That said, I will also give mad props to the reams of dedicated Disney employees that I met at the Expo.  They  are talented, hardworking people who want to do the best job they can in whatever field they’re in, be it Imagineering, Animation, Hospitality, Archives, etc.  Having the chance to meet them and share in their magic was something really special that made me appreciate the things I love most about Disney (Parks & Pixar) that much more.