Comic Con Panels are Broken
It took me a while to collect my thoughts on this subject. This comic con it became clear to me that the panel system at the San Diego Comic Con International is broken. This became clear to the whole world when there was a stabbing at Hall H over a seat dispute.
I was a little surprised by the stabbing but not shocked. I am not a huge panel person. I have friends who love to spend all day in panels, but I always feel like I am missing too much of what is going on. I want to see the people walking around and see the people on the floor. My time at a comic book convention it limited so I want to make the most of it. Lately Comic Con has left me feeling I am not using that time well.
I looked at the list of panels. I would say that about 20 of them were worth my time at all. After time conflicts that left about 10 panels. The said point is after the time conflicts half of the remaining panels I knew I could not spend the time to get into them. I knew that I would have to wait in line most of the day or the night before to get into the panel. That left me with five panels I wanted to get into, but I only got to see one.
The Tron Panel
Tron was all over Comic Con this year. The Panel was 11 AM Thursday, the first day of comic con. We saw the end of that line, and it was far away. The next day we talked to people who where in line for that panel at 8 AM and did not get in. They were not even close to getting in. They stood in that line for three hours to find in they were not going to get into Hall H. That would have steamed me. I was lucky enough not to spend that much time in line.
The Showtime Anti-Heroes
Because we were working for a friend during Comic Con, we covered his booth a few times. This ended up giving us an old school approach to the Showtime Anti-Heroes panel. We got in like about an hour before the panel started. The panel was in Ballroom 20 which is the second biggest and holds around 4000 people. It used to be totally fine to get in line for a panel like this an hour before it started. We ended up waiting 1:15 and we were not even close to get in. This did not upset me at all, but it still seemed like a problem.
The Big Bang Theory Panel
Last year I stood in line for two hours for the Big Bang Panel Theory and I ended up within 20 or so people of getting into the panel. They closed the door and I left. This year I thought if I spent three hours in line I would get in for sure. I got into line before the first panel of the day started.
The line was looking pretty good after the panel before Big Bang Theory started, Caprica. There were less then 300 people in line in front of me. I had no doubt we would get into the panel. We stood in the line for an hour when a member of the security came down the line saying "No one is leaving Carpica."
At this point people started to get out of line and the line started to move. I usually wait for 15 after the panel is scheduled to start to give up. Panels are almost always late and usually they keep getting people in as long as they can.
The line stopped moving with about 20 people between me and getting in. I could see the Bare Naked Ladies perform the theme song live on stage through the door of Ballroom 20.
I can't tell you how angry I was. I was pissed off I missed this panel for the third year in a row. This was the panel I was looking forward to the most. For the second year I was within site of the door. I wanted to just yell and scream. I knew I should not have been upset, but I could have been having fun on the floor for those three plus hours.
I don't mean to be mister old timer, but back in 2002 you could just walk into the back of the popular panels and get a seat, even after they started. Now that is unheard of.
In every line I was in, people talked about Comic Con moving. Lots of people talked about it going to Las Vegas, but the last Comic Book Convention in Vegas bombed. No one showed up and vendors lots a lot of money. I doubt enough people will follow if they try to move it there, and it would not be in July.
The other two choices are always LA and Anaheim. I really do not want to see Comic Con move. I am not sure these sites will be all that much better. Part of the charm is the fact it is in San Diego. It is a great location for the rest of the convention. I worry if these things are not fixed, it will have to move. I have a few ideas that can work.
All of the fixes are hard, but the current system is broken and leaves a lot of people upset. I think these fixes will make it better for everyone. No matter what is done, some people will say the current system is better. Those people will not acknowledge how people are not getting into panels now.
Use More Sites for Panels
This was the first year Comic Con moved panels to the ballrooms at surrounding hotels. I went to the Venture Bros panel in the Hilton. It worked really well. I think they have to get more creative about this. Find even more venues in the down town area to use. Start having really big Panels at Petco Park. I think you could get 20,000 people for Kevin Smith at Petco Park. It would be easy to make this work for everyone.
Clear the Rooms
I know this is not a popular idea, but it is necessary. Two panels after the Big Bang Theory was the Joss Whedon Spotlight. I heard later from Joss Whedon fans they spent the whole day in the room and did not really care about the other panels. The current system forces fans of one show to be jerks to a fan of another show just to see the panel they want. Sitting through five panels you do not care about to see the panel you really want to see is a waste of time for everyone involved.
I am not saying you clear the room after every panel, but every other panels. Match up back to back panels that have some synergy and clear after the second panel. This is just one step in solving the problem. You would force the attendees to choose what panels are important to them, but it would give more people the chance to get into panels.
Ticket the Panels
There are a bunch of ways to do this, but I think you need to ticket the panels. This would give the attendees some understanding of what panels they would get into and what they would not. If you are worried about ticket taking slowing down getting into the panels, give out arm bands when the people are waiting in line. It will become clear you need to get to the panel an hour before it starts to get your armband.
This way if there are only 6000 seats in a room, you would have a good idea if you are getting in or not. This would also work with clearing the rooms. If people with tickets do not show up, have a stand by line for the extra seats.
Limit the time people can wait in line.
It a badge of honor how long fans can stand in line for what they want. I think it has something to do with the English heritage of geekdom. The English are naturals at queuing up. If people know the line will only open up two hours before the event, it will help. It would make it so I would not need to lose so much time and not get into a panel.
There are many ways to fix panels at Comic Con. They need to start doing something. Every year people wait in line for more and more time. As some point the systme will break.Comic Con is already a victim of its own success. They have been good at addressing the growth of Comic Con up to this point, but they still need to make big changes here.
I am not alone thinking comic needs to do something.