New York Comic Con goes virtual for the first time ever this week, the third major fan convention to take itself online in the time of corona, following the legendary San Diego Comic-Con and newbie DC FanDome.
Of course, since San Diego Comic-Con’s inaugural digital version, Comic-Con@Home, received lukewarm reviews in July while WarnerMedia’s garnered raves in August, it’s anyone’s guess how NYCC’s offering, dubbed Metaverse, will stack up. But given the benefit of watching the stumbles and victories of the two cons that went before it, the odds are certainly in favor of ReedPop’s four-day convention.
“What we really looked at for San Diego and FanDome and others were, what were fans talking about? How were they engaging? What did customers have to say?” NYCC event director Kristina Rogers told TheWrap ahead of Metaverse’s Thursday kickoff on YouTube, ReedPop’s official partner for the event.
In order to avoid having that “wish-we’d-done-this feeling” with virtual NYCC, as Rogers put it, ReedPop took fans’ negative and positive reactions to their competitors’ events and then tested things out with Metaverse August, a virtual mini-con that ran Aug. 13-16. ReedPop then surveyed more 20,000 fans multiple times to get as much guidance as possible heading into this week’s main event, according to ReedPop’s director of studio relations, Brien McDonald.
And one of the biggest things they learned was the importance of drawing a clear line between NYCC’s digital show and the convention that’s held in Manhattan’s Javits Center each fall.
“Our intention with launching the Metaverse brand was that we’re very keen on differentiating ourselves from a physical show — but we’re also very aware that it may be a while, and it has been a while, since we have hung out at a venue,” Rogers said. “So we wanted to create a solution that could live long term for fans and grow. I’m very keen on what FanDome is doing. I think it’s absolutely brilliant and they’re tackling a component that we find as equally important as getting in the amazing content that Brien and the programming team have worked on — that community element. How do we connect people together? And how do we give them that sensation of the joy of being on site and hanging out and meeting with people that are all into the same thing as you?”
Metaverse boasts a lineup of more than 170 virtual TV, film and comic-centric virtual panels that will stream on YouTube Thursday-Sunday, 25% of which McDonald says will be live versus pre-recorded. Rogers’ main solution to the problem of how to create a sense of community amongst viewers watching these panels in isolation versus next to each other in a packed ballroom is aggressively utilizing YouTube’s live chat feature.
“The advantage of how we’re debuting our content — whether it’s prerecorded or it’s live — is appearing live,” Rogers said. “You can’t start a panel and skip to the end, you have to sit and watch with everybody. But you get access to the live chat and that sense of talking with other fans about what you’re watching, as you’re watching it. And the fan Q&A. Nothing replaces waiting in the queue to get into the biggest panel, but the live chat is a wonderful next resort for us.”
Fans’ mixed reaction to SDCC’s Comic-Con@Home and warmer response to DC FanDome was in large part due to the fact that, while both were made up of mostly prerecorded content, FanDome — which ended up being broken up into two days, Aug. 22 and Sept. 21, at the last minute — felt more live. That was because its panels were only available at specific times over a 24-hour window before vanishing all together, whereas Comic-Con@Home’s content, which rolled out July 22-26, could be viewed full as soon as it was loaded onto YouTube — meaning you could scroll to the end of a video.
So that “appearing live” point that Rogers made is a key focus for NYCC.
“With the pre-records, from publishing to comics to film and TV, we’ve really been working with our partners to make sure that there taking fanboy questions in advance, taking some fan art, getting out on social media beforehand and making sure that if you are going to pre-recorded, it’s leveled up,” McDonald said. “And then exclusive footage, thankfully we’ll have a lot of that, there will be a lot of news breaks coming out of our programming.”
One example of this is the creation of the #LostintheMetaverse hashtag, which NYCC is using to gather questions on Twitter for its eagerly anticipated “Lost” anniversary fan Q&A panel with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.
“So that’s going to be a prerecorded panel, but you’re not going to know any different because fans put in some awesome questions that will get answered.”
McDonald says they’ve also gone a step further and pulled in some video submissions to actually “get fans into the panels.” And he’s pretty proud — and a little shocked — but the lineup of panels Metaverse has managed to secure.
“I’m thrilled, and just to be totally honest, really surprised at all of the studio partners that were able to No. 1, take the ride with us, No. 2, make the timing work out. We had a really exceptional response to what we’re doing, and I think a lot of that was, we do have a strategy behind how we’re rolling out panels. And I think we got really lucky that a lot of television production was able to stay on track. There was a little lull there because people were coming from working in big edit bays and sets to coming to work remotely at home.”
Among the shows that will be featured at New York Comic Con’s Metaverse are Amazon’s “The Boys,” CBS’ All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Stand,” AMC’s “Walking Dead” franchise, BBC America’s “Doctor Who,” Starz’ “American Gods,” Hulu’s “Helstrom,” FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” and CW’s “DC’s Stargirl.”
“So it’s been great in that regard for TV — but we’ve also got a good amount of films. Paramount is bringing two really good films, ‘Spontaneous’ and ‘Love and Monsters.’ That’s great. It was sadly forced to go straight to paid VOD, but that’s something we probably wouldn’t have been able to include in New York Comic Con in years past.”
Rogers is excited by the chance to “build off” what San Diego Comic-Con and DC FanDome managed with their virtual cons over the summer, “in the same way we’ve done with physical events over the years.”
“We all pay attention to what each other is doing and now we get to do it online,” she said. “There are things that I’m extraordinarily confident about, like our amazing programming and our virtual show floor and what is happening on the website, at FindtheMetaverse.com, throughout to bolster all of this content. And I’m really excited to see what the next show does to piggyback off that. I’m excited to see what everyone does after NYCC.”