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ReedPop, the organizer behind New York Comic Con and other major conventions, is laying out its coronavirus guidelines for the rest of the year. In line with new New York City rules, New York Comic Con will require guests to be fully vaccinated.
The con, which takes place Oct. 7-10 at the Javitz Center, will require attendees 12 and over to provide proof of full vaccination. Those under 12 must be accompanied by a fully vaccinated guardian and provide proof of a negative COVID test. Attendees must also wear face coverings inside except while eating or drinking. The move comes as New York City mandates vaccines for indoor entertainment venues.
ReedPop organizers say there is anecdotal evidence of support for vaccines among its audience. When it announced recently that the Seattle video game convention PAX West would require vaccines, only about ten people asked for a refund.
“We had a nice spike in ticket sales,” ReedPop president Lance Fensterman tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That tells us people want that layer of security and appreciate that layer of safety.”
Anyone who no longer wishes to attend can request a refund.
Kristina Rogers, event director for the US cons at ReedPop, notes that autograph stations will still be a fixture this year at New York Comic Con, albeit with a twist.
“If you walk up to a table you will have plexiglass there protecting both the fan and the guest,” Rogers says. “If anybody is a Star Trek nerd you can re-create that scene with Kirk and Spock really nicely. It looks really great.”
Meanwhile, ReedPop has laid out rules in line with other local guidelines for its other 2021 conventions.
Florida Supercon, which takes place in Miami Beach Sept. 10-12, will require face coverings, but not vaccines.
Both Emerald City Comic Con, which takes place in Seattle from Dec. 2-5, and C2E2, which occurs in Chicago Dec. 10-12, will require guests to be fully vaccinated or to provide proof of a negative COVID test.
New York Comic Con 2021 comes after a year in which the coronavirus pandemic saw conventions migrate online. While those online cons failed to make the cultural impact that in-person events did, they also were praised for giving access to audiences who might not have been able to attend those events in the past.
In a conversation with THR, Fensterman says New York Comic Con will continue to build out its streaming presence moving forward, and the executive also weighs in on events like DC Fandome, San Diego’s Thanksgiving con, and more.
Even before COVID, NYCC would broadcast some of its bigger panels live. Now that you are going back to in-person, how will that shift?
What we’ve learned is that the virtual con concept is not that exciting to fans. It’s fine, but it’s not great. Our research shows that. So we’ve learned that live, for our fans is still the thing. But we definitely see the massive opportunity for a far more robust streaming, digital from a distance companion. We look at it as our shows will never sell out again, in a good way. If you want to be a part of a show like New York Comic Con, you’ll be able to be a part of it, whether you can buy a ticket or live in the area or not. We’re going to invest pretty heavily in that from a distance participation in shows like New York Comic Con.
A few years ago, when you are streaming a John Wick panel and it’s live and Keanu Reeves is there with an audience, to me as an online viewer, that felt exciting. If it was a pre-taped Zoom thing during the age of COVID, it didn’t have that exciement. So you will be streaming more of those live events?
Let’s bring that shared experience that is happening when something is actually happening to people not in the room. Beyond that, it’s before and after. Can there be that in the wings interview or that backstage recap or reaction to what was just talked about that is exclusive to people that are not in the building? That’s a different investment in energy and resources than we’ve had in the past. It’s not simply saying, “You can feel like you are in the room and something is happening.” It’s, “you may actually get a bit more of a take because you’ll get some of the content before and after the thing, whatever the thing is, happens.”
Are you seeing the streaming component as a revenue generator?
We are not necessarily looking at it as a revenue generator though we of course are not going to say no. But the two primary methods are through sponsorship, somebody at brand A,B,C says, “I want to be present on that stream.” Fine, we can do that. The other piece is, through memberships. If you want to see all of the stream and all of the exclusive content, there is a nominal fee for a virtual membership that lets you see everything. And those are the two primary ways. We will still have streaming for all. We are sort of taken the mindest of, we don’t want to paywall things that people have had. But if there are additional new pieces of content that we will are of value, those will come at some sort of a membership cost. It’s worth noting that over the last year, we’ve talked to our customers quite a bit, so we’ve had 100,000 data points with our fans. We have a pretty solid sense of what do they want? What d they value? How much do they value it? What is the optimal price point for a thing that they want? We’re not throwing darts at a wall. We’ve really honed in on “What’s the value to people and what’s of value?”
There must be some things that are always going to be for folks in the room only. Footage a studio doesn’t want out, and things like that.
Absolutely. We are being really careful about what we monetize. What we stream and how that works. We’ve always had a healthy, respectful, balanced relationship with all of our content partners. So if there’s anything they absolutely don’t want to be streamed or they don’t want sponsored, we will always work with that.
We now have DC Fandome and companies putting on their own events. Does that make it harder to woo talent and studio partners, who might just want to save it all for their own in-house events?
That’s always kind of been in the mix. We see it more now. I think we see it, especially in the virtual realm. What we bring of value is a huge audience into the room. The audience is a desirable one. A lot of the brands — the studios — have massive online audiences. They don’t need us to deliver a huge audience. The idea of branded life events has always been a thing. We produce some of them, like Star Wars Celebration. That’s a branded live event. Minecraft, we work with them to produce their branded event. The branded live event has always been a thing. What’s been different is the streamed branded event. That’s tough to argue with. They’ve got a bigger audience.
Talent has enjoyed just being at home and not having to go to things. It likely varies from person to person, but what is it like luring talent back to traveling to these things?
We’ve had really strong support from content producers. We feel like we are going to have some really, really strong content at the show. It’s early days but the conversations of what’s being committed is great. If what’s on the table now, we have our usual washout rate, which is 30 percent of what’s being discussed probably won’t happen. If that’s the usual washout rate, we’re going to have a really strong roster of content for the fans at the show.
Your competitor San Diego Comic-Con announced an in-person Thanksgiving con. That got some pushback from folks who aren’t excited to give up their holiday. How closely do you pay attention to what competitors are doing and what the reaction is?
We’re in the same business, so I know those guys well. It’s not like they said, “I have a great idea, let’s do a show on Thanksgiving.” There are a lot of factors they had to deal with. I am going to be the most sympathetic guy in the world to those sorts of challenges. We’ve always been focused on ourselves because that’s what we can control. How do we build the best thing? When you are in a new frontier like this and somebody is trying streaming, yeah we pay attention to what works and what didn’t. I think we definitely saw from other spaces, pre-recorded wasn’t as exciting to fans. They wanted that moment. We said, “Alright, we need to make sure that the content we produce online from a distance has closer to that spontaneity and energy because that’s what our fans love.” That’s an example of paying attention. but I talk to a lot of our competitors pretty regularly through the pandemic because we are all dealing with this. We are all dealing with a business model that got turned upside down.
What would does success look like to you this NYCC?
What success looks like has changed in some ways. We would think much, much less about the quality of the content and more about, “Was it safe, and did people have fun?” So much of what we are focused on is logistics and safety and let’s bring people back together. And doing it in a safe way. They want to gather, they want to get together. We’re focusing on a ton of energy on community features. Whether it’s meetups by genre that we organize for our fans. Additional cosplay infrastructure. Social engagement and contest. More family activities. These are all things that is not AAA Hollywood content. We want that, but at the core of this, people want to get together. Let’s make sure we can do that, do it safely, have fun, see each other for the first time in years. Enjoy that shared experience and spectacle. Everything after that is bonus.
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