The size of a pop culture event depends on how you count
This year ReedPop’s New York Comic Con reportedly reached a new record high attendance: 200,000. However, it’s difficult to know the actual size of the event relative to other fan conventions — or even to the previous year’s New York Comic Con — due to vagaries in how attendance is counted.
New York Comic Con is unquestionably huge. Several years ago the annual fan fest outgrew the confines of the Javits Center and now hosts additional programming sessions in the The Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom, the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and Hudson Mercantile.
The Javits seemed particularly crowded this year due, at least in part, by having less available floor space than in past years. Javits North, traditionally the site of Artist Alley, was closed due to construction, forcing the show’s artists to relocate from the 80,000 square foot hall to the 45,000 sq ft. room 1E on the ground floor, a space used for vendor exhibits in the previous year.
Ways to Count
While fan festivals both large and small routinely report specific attendance numbers, what they mean is less clear. There is no industry standard for attendance calculations at pop culture conventions. In practice, at least three methods are used:
(1) Counting unique individuals, where each person counts as one attendee, regardless of the number of tickets they hold or days they attend.
(2) Counting the number of tickets sold (whether for a single day or multiple days)
(3) Counting the number of people who enter each day and totaling it for all the days of the event.
For example: An individual with two single-day tickets (say, one for Friday and one for Saturday), would count as one attendee using the first approach and two using the second and third. On the other hand, someone with a single four-day ticket would count as one attendee using the first and second methods, but four using the third.
The third method is sometimes referred to as a “turnstile” count, although this term introduces an additional confusion. Most events allow you to leave and return later the same day, so an actual count of the number of turnstile entrances would further inflate the number, making this a potential fourth method of counting attendance (although I know of no event that actually uses this approach).
Which Con Uses Which Numbers?
When a convention reports attendance figures, it’s often not clear which method is being used. All these approaches are valid, but they’re different, making comparisons fraught with uncertainty.
Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con reportedly uses the most conservative approach: a count of unique individuals, regardless of the number of days each person attends. The attendance at that event has been capped by space constraints for several years and is reported each year as around 130,000.
When New York Comic Con reported a significantly higher number — 151,000 — in 2014, it sparked a flurry of articles breathlessly reporting that ReedPop’s event had surpassed the Comic-Con International convention. The confusion was compounded by ReedPop’s identifying the number as a “unique attendee” count. Reporting by the SDCC Unofficial Blog, however, clarified that ReedPop was counting tickets sold (using method 2, above) not unique individuals (method 1).
The key takeaway is that comparing attendance figures from events run by different organizations — Comic-Con International (San Diego Comic-Con and Wondercon), ReedPop (New York Comic Con, Chicago’s C2E2, Emerald City Comic Con), Wizard World (events in dozens of cities) or others — is highly dubious.
Assuming the method for each event remains the same, however, at least year-over-year increases could provide a reasonable proxy for the relative growth of a single event. Alas, this year New York Comic Con — which, remember, tallies the number of tickets sold — changed their ticket sales policy to no longer offer a four-day ticket. People were able to attend all four days only by buying four single-day tickets. Thus, even with the same number of attendees, the number of tickets sold would be expected to increase irrespective of any growth in attendance.
New York Comic Con and Comic-Con International: San Diego are both enormous pop culture events, with an broad array of activities and large numbers of attendees. Until the industry adopts a standard accounting method, however, the relative size of each will remain obscure.
The major comic cons — such as Comic-Con International’s San Diego event in the summer and ReedPOP’s New York Comic Con in the fall — feature a large assortment of pop culture events and activities. That presents a challenge for people who are interested in multiple aspects of popular media — movies, television shows, comic books, and more. There’s a great deal to see and, given the scale of these events, a great deal will be missed.
With that caveat, here is an overview of highlights from New York Comic Con 2016 from my perspective, with links to additional photos.
This year New York Comic Con announced a record high in ticket sales, reporting sales of “at least 185,000 unique tickets,” up from 167,000 the previous year.
As discussed last year [see “New York Comic Con 2015: Recap and Photo Highlights“], because of the different ways in which attendance is tallied, these numbers do not provide a meaningful basis of comparison with events run by other organizations. San Diego Comic-Con’s attendance numbers (reported as around 130,000), tallies unique attendees, many of which hold more than one ticket for different days, making head-to-head comparisons with New York’s “tickets” count infeasible. Nonetheless, New York Comic Con’s ticket number does provide an indicator of the relative increase in the size of this festival year over year.
Another indicator of the growing scale of the event is the increase in venue space. Last year, New York Comic Con grew beyond the confines of the Javits Center to include panels in the 2,200-seat Hammerstein Ballroom. This year, the expansion continued further into midtown Manhattan with the addition of events at the Theater at Madison Square Garden and, for BookCon (a companion event run by New York Comic Con’s ReedPOP), the Hudson Marcantile venue.
Television Highlights: Marvel/Netflix, Mr. Robot, Hulu, and Amazon Prime
In recent years, New York Comic Con has become a major event for television programming including broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms.
First on stage were the cast members of Marvel’s Iron Fist: Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, David Wenham, Rosario Dawson, Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Stroup, and showrunner Scott Buck.
Following the Iron Fist panel, Loeb welcomed The Punisher‘s Jon Bernthal to the stage. Bernthal was then joined by Deborah Ann Woll, who plays Karen Page in Marvel’s Daredevil the forthcoming series The Punisher and The Defenders.
Loeb then assembled on stage for the first time the central cast of Marvel’s The Defenders: Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, and Finn Jones. The crowd, as you might expect, went crazy. As a final surprise, it was announced that the role of Alexandra, the villain in The Defenders, would be played by Sigourney Weaver, who then joined the other cast members on stage.
While the Marvel panel was a highlight of the con, other new television and streaming series were also well represented.
A session by industry trends and analysis firm ICv2 included Vivek Tiwary‘s inspiring talk about his graphic novel The Fifth Beatle, followed by ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp‘s discussion of the future of retail in the comic book industry. Heidi MacDonald then introduced revered industry veteran Karen Berger who gave an insightful discussion of the current state of the industry.
The large pop culture events like New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic-Con have become showplaces for large scale — and highly entertaining — marketing activities by major media companies.
As in past years, New York Comic Con was peppered with marketing booths by several brands unrelated to popular culture. Chevrolet was once again a featured sponsor. Geico‘s ubiquitous advertising has become a staple at several large cons, including New York Comic Con.
Many of the major marketing installations, however, were for popular television programs. Interactive environments set up just outside the Javits Center included the South Park 20 Experience, with life-sized standups of many of the South Park characters, and an Ash vs. the Evil Dead walk-though installation.
Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle Virtual Experience, which was on display at San Diego Comic-Con over the summer, made a return appearance at New York Comic Con, although it didn’t include the large museum component seen at San Diego.
One of the most compelling marketing events combined an interactive virtual experience with an impressive physical reconstruction of the world of HBO’s Westworld. A short distance from the Javits Center a staid, corporate-looking building was marked with the Westworld logo. Inside, the white-clad “hosts” — playing the role of the show’s lifelike automatons — take you down a corridor that leads to a virtual reality experience that places you in universe of Westworld. This combination of a physical, constructed environment melded with a virtual experience is the high point of the marketing experiences at the con. [For a more detailed description of the Westworld VR experience, see Knowledge@Wharton, “Entering Westworld: VR Marketing at New York Comic Con“]
Comic Book Creators
A primary focus for me at Comic Con is photographing portraits of the men and women who create comic books. This year’s New York Comic Con featured a number of storied creators. I was pleased to have the opportunity this year to take a portrait of the great Frank Miller. And, in a moment of serendipitous Comic Con magic, I stumbled across a signing event with filmmaker Luc Besson, promoting his forthcoming film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and artist Jean-Claude Mézières, who illustrated the original Valérian comics.
While I don’t typically focus on cosplay photography, it’s always fun to capture some of the creative costumes roaming the convention center. I’m particularly fond of seeing early Steve Ditko creations, like the Mac Gargan version of the Scorpion I spotted this year. Another favorite was the WW I version of the Red Skull.
For a full visual recap of New York Comic Con 2016 in 300-plus photos, see the Flickr album, “New York Comic Con 2016“:
The growing enthusiasm for all things pop culture was on display once again this past weekend at New York Comic Con. The sold-out event, run by the ReedPop unit of Reed Exhibitions, a division of RELX Group (formerly Reed Elsevier), drew its largest crowd ever. The event reported an all-time high attendance of 167,000, up from last year’s high of 151,000.
Bigger than Big?
Comparisons with other comic cons is difficult, however, due to the lack of a standard method of reporting attendance figures. New York Comic Con apparently tallies the number of people who attend each day to generate their total attendance figure. Comic Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con, on the other hand, reportedly counts each attendee only once, regardless of how many days the person attends. In other words, someone with a four-day badge, who attends all four days, would be counted four times in New York’s tally, but only once in San Diego’s. Thus, although San Diego Comic-Con reports a smaller attendance number of roughly 130,000, the West Coast event likely remains the largest popular culture convention in the U.S.
New York Comic Con is clearly growing, however, this year expanding to an additional venue beyond the Javits Center, adding the 2,200 seat Hammerstein Ballroom for panel sessions.
The size of the convention was also apparent from the length of the lines at the event. On Saturday morning before the Javits Center opened, the line to enter the building started at 11th Avenue and 38th Street, stretched two blocks up to 40th Street, turned the corner to follow 40th Street down the long crosstown block to 12th Avenue, and then turned down 12th Ave to extend six more blocks down to 34th Street — a total distance of roughly 0.6 miles. Unlike San Diego Comic-Con, which provides different lines for Hall H and everything else, at New York Comic Con there is initially one line outside the building for everything. When the convention center opened, the line moved briskly, despite the requirement to check bags and scan the RFID chip in each badge. Once inside, the line splits into one for the exhibition hall (or anywhere other than the Main Stage) and multiple separate lines to get a wristband for one of the day’s panels on the Main Stage.
As first implemented last year, the Main Stage auditorium at New York Comic Con is cleared between each panel. This differs from the halls at San Diego Comic-Con (or any of the other rooms at New York Comic Con) which allow audience members to stay for multiple panels. As discussed last year when this policy was first introduced [see “New York Comic Con 2014: Bigger and Better“], this approach is a mixed blessing. While it makes it easier to gain access to the one major panel of your choice, it’s nearly impossible to see any of the other Main Stage panels that day. By contrast, at San Diego Comic-Con gaining entry to Hall H often requires camping out in line for many hours but, once in the room, fans can stay throughout the entire day’s programming. The process at New York Comic Con also means less programming in total, since the scheme requires 45 minutes between panels to clear the room, in contrast to only 15 minutes between most of San Diego’s panel sessions.
Beyond the scale of the event, however, the range and the quality of programming at ReedPop’s New York Comic Con continue to secure the event’s position as the premiere East Coast pop culture event.
Marketing is a major thrust of all comic cons — from the presentations by television studios to the vendor booths throughout the exhibition hall, and comic cons often feature creative approaches to advertising to the pop culture crowd.
Marvel Television had a significant presence at New York Comic Con this year, with major presentations on their Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones. (More on these below.) These Marvel properties also presented clever viral marketing campaigns outside the walls of the Javits Center. Spray-painted in the style of street art graffiti on the sidewalks around the convention center were messages using the #JessicaJones hashtag along with statements such as “I know your secrets.” (As clever as this is, one wonders about the legality of this defacement of public property.) Elsewhere around the arena were mock ads for the legal services of Nelson and Murdock, the attorneys in Marvel’s Daredevil.
A few years ago it was noteworthy to see companies outside the realm of pop culture exhibiting at a comic con. [See, from 2012: ‘Consumer Brands Go Geek at Comic Con” and, from 2013: “Philadelphia Comic Con: Batman, Buffy and … Bath Fitter?“] No longer. It is now common practice at many of the large, for-profit conventions, such as those run my ReedPop and WizardWorld, to include vendors unrelated to pop culture hawking their products to the comic con crowd. As in past years, Chevrolet was a partner sponsor of this year’s New York Comic Con. Other partner sponsors this year included such wide ranging brands as Honey Nut Cheerios, Courtyard Marriott, and Jelly Belly Candy Company.
One vendor embracing the spirit of con culture was Progressive. The insurance company provided lockers where fans could temporarily store their loot and a charging hub for mobile devices in need of power. More bizarre were the “Protector-corns” — workers dressed as a mashup of company spokesperson Flo and a unicorn — who provided “line insurance” by holding attendees’ places in line while they grabbed food or took a restroom break.
While New York Comic Con offers a full array of programming sessions on comic books, games, movies, and cosplay, the event is particularly strong in the depth of its presentations on television programming.
The Librarians and Felicia Day
On Friday, the cast and crew of the TNT series The Librarians discussed what to expect in the new season. The panel included actors John Larroquette, Christian Kane, John Kim, Lindy Booth, and Rebecca Romijn, along with Executive Producer Dean Devlin. Following this panel, actor Jeff Hephner showed an extended clip of his upcoming TNT series, Agent X, co-starring Sharon Stone.
Following the TNT panels, actor, producer, and writer Felicia Day arrived on the Empire Stage. Fresh off the book tour for her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), Day participated in an hour-long audience question and answer session.
Limitless, Colony, and Mr. Robot
Later on Friday afternoon, as part of the CBS TV Studios session, the Hammerstein Ballroom hosted a Limitless panel with actors Jake McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter, and Executive Producer Craig Sweeny.
Following the CBS presentations, the Hammerstein Ballroom featured panels for two USA TV series: Colony, scheduled to debut on January 14, 2016, and Mr. Robot, which recently ended its initial 10-episode season.
The Colony panel featured series co-creators Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal, along with lead actor Josh Holloway discussing the forthcoming series about a near future in which the citizens of Los Angeles live under the domination of an occupying force. While audience speculation ran rampant about the nature of the mysterious occupiers, Cuse and Condal remained mum on the details. In addition to a Q and A with the creative team, the pilot episode of Colony was screened in full.
Much of the audience in the Hammerstein Ballroom that afternoon appeared to be there to see the Mr. Robot panel, which included actors Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, and Martin Wallström, and showrunner Sam Esmail, in conversation with Andy Greenwald. While details about season 2 were scant, Esmail indicated the upcoming episodes would turn very dark. Masks of fsociety, the series’ subversive hacker group, were distributed to the audience at the outset of the panel. Near the end of the session, the cast hopped down from the stage to pose in front of the auditorium full of masked fans and take a few quick selfies with audience members.
Daredevil and Jessica Jones
On Saturday, Marvel Television presented a two-part panel on the Main Stage featuring the company’s Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
As Marvel Television head Jeph Loeb walked to the podium to introduce the first of the two panels he stopped and said he wanted to do something unscripted. He then dashed off stage and returned briefly with cast members from both shows — Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Charlie Cox (Daredevil) and Mike Colter (Jessica Jones and Luke Cage) — playfully stating this is the most the audience would presently see of The Defenders, an upcoming Netflix Marvel team-up series featuring those characters.
Loeb returned to the stage to introduce the Daredevil panel, with a full list of cast members from season 2: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal, and Elodie Yung, along with season 2 showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez (replacing season 1 showrunner Steven DeKnight), and Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada. The panel included a sizzle reel with footage from seasons 1 and 2, including a quick shot of Elodie Yung donning her mask as Elektra that brought cheers from the crowd.
Following Daredevil, Loeb brought to the stage the cast of Netflix’s next Marvel series, Jessica Jones: actors Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Carrie-Anne Moss, Wil Traval, Eka Darville, and Erin Moriarty, and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg.
Missing from the panel was actor David Tennant, who was working in a play in London. Tennant appeared in a brief video segment apologizing for his absence and mentioning that clips from the series would follow. To the initial dismay of the crowd, Loeb explained that Tennant misspoke — they didn’t have clips from Jessica Jones to show. He quickly explained that they didn’t have any clips because they would show, for the first time anywhere, the complete first episode of the series, which elicited an enthusiastic roar from the audience.
Minority Report and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
On Sunday, back at the Empire Stage, the Minority Report panel included actors Meagan Good, Wilmer Valderrama, Nick Zano, Stark Sands, Laura Regan, Daniel London, and Li Jun Li.
As the Minority Report panel ended, it was standing room only as people jammed the room waiting for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow panel with cast members Arthur Darvill, Brandon Routh, and Ciara Renee, and showrunner Phil Klemmer. Given the size of the crowd, the powerhouse programming lineup in this Warner Bros. Television Takeover that began with of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and included Gotham, Supergirl, Blindspot and Person of Interest would have been better suited for the larger Main Stage.