Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 will go into the books as a year with almost no comic and entertainment conventions. While the year started off strong with events like C2E2 early on, by mid-March everything had changed. Emerald City Comic Con officially cancelled and many others around the country soon followed suit. Eventually even San Diego Comic-Con would cancel due to continued concerns over COVID-19.
The loss of in-person conventions prompted some unique solutions to fill the gaps. Many conventions opted to offer online content in various forms for fans. San Diego Comic-Con had a Comic-Con@Home program for fans and even DC got in on the action with DC FanDome offering fans a full 24 hours of programming they could enjoy from the safety of home. Now, as summer is coming to an end it's time to start looking ahead at how the convention circuit will permanently change going forward because, in all likelihood, it will be forever altered.
Nearly six months into the pandemic, there's not yet a vaccine and community spread continues to be an issue across the United States but we're starting to see things opening up again. Movie theaters are slowly coming back with changes and it's not a far leap to believe that the things people have endured because of the pandemic and lessons learned long the way will change conventions as well especially in a handful of key areas: safety protocols, capacity, online components, entirely virtual events, and even potentially fewer conventions. Let's break it down.
Photo by Steven A Henry/Getty Images.
One of the biggest changes to the convention circuit going forward are the safety protocols conventions will employ to help keep guests safe. Anyone who has ever been to a convention can tell you that "con crud" is real which makes the potential spread of a complicated and lethal illness such as COVID-19 truly frightening. Even once a vaccine is available, conventions are very likely to put safety protocols in place to help protect people as well as may need to do so in order to be able to even utilize event spaces to begin with.
Among the safety protocols convention guests are likely to see going forward are things they've already seen in other aspects of daily life. Social distancing -- particularly in queue lines -- will likely become the new norm as will enhanced cleaning measures for common areas. Masks are likely to become mandatory and guests also likely see a lot more sanitizing stations or areas where hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes will be available. Temperature checks upon entry could also easily end up being business as usual in a post-pandemic convention world.
One of the biggest safety protocols that guests may see, at least in the short term, are changes to meet and greets and photo ops. While it's still early to imagine what that might look like, social distancing and mask-wearing are likely to be a major component while photo ops, if they continue in the shorter term, may go no-contact for everyone's health and well-being.prevnext
Another major change to conventions in a post-pandemic world is likely to be reduced capacity. Part of this is just practical in terms of making the safety protocols more effective: it's much easier to screen guests and social distance when the convention itself isn't packed. And there are a few ways the conventions can reduce their capacity without reducing the fun.
First, conventions can just reduce the number of tickets they sell and, thus, overall reduce the number of people attending. That's the least fun, but most direct option and it's one that some conventions may not want to do as it also would have an impact on revenue. That leads to another solution: increase the number of days a convention runs and just have limited capacity each day. For some conventions this option may not be viable, but there will be those that opt to extend their event by a day or two in order to accommodate fans allowing for the maximum number of guests possible, just spread out in a way that is more manageable.
A third option, that could work for some conventions, is to have two separate events at different times of the year. Again, the capacity solution may look a little different from event to event, but it's almost a guarantee that it's something every convention will need to address.prevnext
One of the interesting solutions to the lack of in-person conventions that popped up this summer were online components and going forward, we'll probably see some of those sticking around -- especially if conventions have to implement reduced capacity going forward. While most conventions aren't likely to offer a fully online experience (most, we'll get to some of the exceptions to that in a bit), we are very likely to see more panels offered online. While we've already seen some of that even before the pandemic, going forward some conventions may opt to have some sort of premium offering, such as panels or special chats conducted over platforms like Zoom that only paying guests would have access to.
Some conventions may even opt for a hybrid model where the price of admission gives guests limited time access to the convention in person and then allows them to access premium digital content as well.prevnext
Virtual Only Events
While most conventions aren't going to go fully virtual -- Comic-Con@Home may end up being a one-time thing as fans will return to Hall H again in the future -- the recent DC FanDome event serves as a sort of proof of concept that major convention-style events can happen in the digital space in a big way and be just as exciting as a real person event.
Airing eight straight hours of programming over a 24-hour period that allowed fans from all over the world to tune in and check out offerings from DC Comics' movies, television shows, comics, video games, and more, DC FanDome gave fans a lot to be excited about without having to get off the couch. There was even an official FanDome store so fans could purchase merchandise, art, and other offerings.
And the event was a hit, a not insignificant reason for that being how tailored the experience was. DC exec Jim Lee designed an actual setting for the event, all of the panels and features were well-produced with a back-to-back schedule that allowed fans to both pick and choose what they wanted to watch or attend, but also gave them one convenient location in which to take it all in. Add to that the fact that DC went out of its way to make things feel truly global with a variety of international hosts and, for a few hours, the world felt like it was full of fans just as much as any physical convention.
Given the success of DC FanDome, it would not be a surprise to see future events in a similar vein -- be it by individual conventions or major companies. After all, fans are already clamoring to get a DC FanDome next year.prevnext
Fewer In-Person Conventions
One of the sad realities of whatever the post-pandemic "new normal" looks like is that some of the things we've known and loved will become things of the past. All over the country, businesses have closed forever due to the economic impact of COVID-19 and sadly that will likely be true for some conventions as well. Conventions are also businesses and for some smaller conventions, the loss of the 2020 season or additional requirements to carry out a 2021 event may be enough to cause them to shutter for good. The result will be fewer conventions overall, a sad reality that we certainly don't want to see but that may ultimately be unavoidable.
What do you think? What are ways you think the convention circuit will permanently change thanks to the pandemic? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.prev