What Lessons Can Future Conventions Learn From Virtual San Diego Comic-Con?

San Diego Comic-Con 2020 was an experiment to see if a convention could be moved entirely online during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The result was... mixed. There were a few things that worked about it, but overall the event was kind of a mess. With DC FanDome and other digital-only conventions on the horizon, the io9 staff got together to discuss what other cons can learn from SDCC’s mistakes.

I was joined by my fellow io9 staffers—Jill Pantozzi, Cheryl Eddy, James Whitbrook, Charles Pulliam-Moore, and Germain Lussier—to talk about what didn’t work about SDCC 2020, from a lack of support for the artists and vendors who would usually be on the show floor, to the lack of fan involvement, to how to create a sense of energy that the convention’s swath of “family Zoom call” style pre-recorded panels were lacking. And, with big mainstays like Disney and Warner Bros. skipping out of the con (and even some attendees saving big news to release just after the con’s wrapped up), we also discussed what the organization will have to do in 2021 to prove that it’s still the place to be for the nerdiest news around every summer.


Check out the video above for our take on what digital cons need to do to make sure they keep fans (and panelists) happy during a very uncertain time. We’ve also written up our highlights and lowlights from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, which you can see here.


Fingers crossed for a vaccine and in-person cons in 2021!

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Arturo R. Garcia

Besides concurring with the IO9 team’s suggestion for better visual branding on the videos coming out of these digital con panels, a couple of thoughts of my own:

* Smaller panels. As the team has said before, many of us are already dealing with multi-person Zoom calls in our personal and/or professional lives (and admittedly, doing so from a position of privilege.). A battery of 9-person group chats in a digital format doesn’t lend itself to the kind of banter you’d get in a physical setting, so organizers would probably be better served spotlighting 2-3 essential voices who can make the most out of the panel’s duration.
* More visual elements in general -- I mentioned this in the Winners & Losers thread, but one thing that elevated the Bill & Ted panel for me as a viewer was that the chat was broken up by bits from the trailer every so often; it was a nice “commercial break”-type feature to stop the panel from seeming monotonous. Even flashing still photos to back up somebody’s point about a scene or character would help.