Comic-Con 2010--Visiting a Parallel Universe: San Diego

There are two types of people in this world. I learned this week that you can actually draw a big fat line down the middle of all humanity. Standing on one side of that line are the vast majority of humans on the Earth. These are the people who, when I said, "I'm going to Comic-Con 2010 for my book tour," replied: "Comi-Wha?"

Now, on the other side of this line stand the proud few who, when I said, "I'm going to Comic-Con 2010 for my book tour," their eyes lit up, their pulse quickened and they replied, "Awesome! Can I fit in your suitcase?" And I can tell you personally that they are not kidding. I had two friends who ordered me to go to specific booths on the convention floor to buy Comic-Con 2010 exclusive toys (Booth #3145 for the Terminator 2 "Liquid Metal" T-1000 and Booth #3949 for the Doctor Who "The Eleventh Doctor" and "Dalek Scientist" figures). They were so excited when I texted them that I had secured the purchase of these limited editions that one actually called me a "golden god."

For those who answered "Comi-Wha?"--let me explain. The short answer is that Comic-Con is a comic book convention, but over the years it has seen such astronomical growth that it has become so much more. 2010 saw 150,000 fan-boys and fan-girls descend onto San Diego for five days of gawking, shopping, screenings, parties, costumes and an experience that can only be described as utterly overwhelming and at the same time completely lovely.         Fans descend…Outside the San Diego Convention Center (photo:BDJ)

I was at the convention as part of the book tour for my book Screen Future. I did two signings a day and got to talk to some really interesting people about Intel's Smart TV advances and the future of entertainment.

Screen Future on the floor of Comic-Con (Photo BDJ)

Walking around the convention floor, it was easy to see that comics really weren't just about comic books or graphic novels anymore. Seeing the massive booths from movie studios, major television broadcasters, live news feeds from the floor and the mountains of t-shirts, toys and collectables, it got me thinking that there might be a really strong parallel between what I was seeing in the world of comic books and what's happening in the broader world of entertainment. It was like a parallel universe: just like comics, entertainment isn't just entertainment anymore; it's a fluid mix of TV, movies, games, applications, social networking and, yes, comics.

Then I rounded the corner and saw the Marvel booth...

Comics: Anytime. Anywhere. (Photo: BDJ)

Standing in front of Spiderman hanging upside-down with a tablet and the mighty Thor holding an iPhone with ear-buds in his ears, I realized I had, in fact, entered the parallel universe. Comics and the future of all entertainment were definitely on a parallel path; both were seeking to be more ubiquitous, personal, informative and social. The superheroes of my childhood were playing out the future of entertainment right in front of me.

In Screen Future I had a conversation with Amy Reinhard about these changes. Amy is the senior vice president of strategic planning and business development for Paramount Pictures. She has a unique role within Paramount, because she coordinates the green light process along with managing Paramount's long-range strategic and financial plan. Amy and I talked about the future of entertainment. I asked Amy how she saw Paramount's future as their franchises moved outside of the movie theater and began to spread across multiple gadgets and screens. Just like the comics industry, the movie industry isn't just about movies anymore. They are expanding their reach to bring their franchises to a wider audience over a longer period of time. Amy and I talked about a franchise that fits right in with the Comic-Con crowd: Star Trek.

 

AMY REINHARD: In recent years we've also been thinking about these other screens from a development and creative perspective. Do different age groups think differently about their entertainment consumption and the mediums they use to watch this content? Is there a way to use these different devices and platforms as a means of expanding the realm of the film or exploring ancillary storylines or characters? This is really true when it comes to those franchise films...Star Trek is a good example for us. Under the vision of our management, we've rebooted and reinvented the Paramount franchise Star Trek. It's the perfect genre to use all those screens to reach our audience and immerse a very dedicated and particularly tech-savvy fan base in a world they love.

Star Trek was a particularly interesting relaunch because the property has a lot of history. On one hand, we wanted to use that history to tap into the built-in audience but on the other hand, we wanted to expand the audience to a new generation of Star Trek fans. One of the approaches we used initially was to create content, in this case a teaser trailer, that we debuted online. This content focused on the shipyard where the new Enterprise was being built. The piece was iconic and set the tone that this was the dawn of a new era and a new Star Trek.

We created a variety of content that was rolled out on the Web. This included a Web site for the film that allowed users to delve into the world of Star Trek...both new and old. They could view content created by the studio, and users were encouraged to generate their own content, like creating their own version of the Enterprise.

While we wait for the sequel, we are working to keep the audience engaged outside the theater. One way to do this is with video games. In today's world, most franchise movies have a game developed for consoles like PlayStation, Xbox 360, and Wii. The most successful video games are the ones that don't necessarily replicate the movie experience but explore ancillary storylines or back stories with a mix of new and existing characters. Atari is launching an online Star Trek game and marketing it by using innovative social marketing tools. For example, they use a campaign that takes user "tweets" and converts them into the Klingon language. It's these types of features that really engage the audience and core fan base.

Another experience in today's world is casual gaming, which is a different experience from the console games and reaches a different audience segment. It may be a less immersive experience for the end-user but it still ultimately engages the user with the brand.

On most major films, we also have a merchandising campaign that allows consumers to identify their affinity for specific movies. This can include sales of ring tones, screen savers and wallpapers for the cell phones...and now apps. Traditional merchandising is often a step removed from this multi-screen idea but it's another way we interact with consumers outside the movie theater.

Then once the movie is out of the theater we work hard to come up with appealing content to include on the Special Edition DVD. This could include a director commentary or a vignette on the production and set design for the movie. There's so much content that is collected during the filming of a movie, and we make it our job to try and figure out what type of content would appeal to a DVD buyer. What special features can we include to make consumers want to purchase the film?

Now after saying all of this, this is the way it is today but the future is evolving quickly. Just recently, we're seeing the iPad and smartphones opening up a whole new way of consuming content. Looking ahead, it will continue to be about tailoring the world of our movies to the devices or screens that are used by the audience we want to target. The opportunities are endless for a platform like Blu-ray, which can connect via the Internet and allows a consumer to download new content and extras. The video game industry has experienced a lot of success with downloadable content that enhances game play for consumers or adds new levels. Will we discover something similar in the film world?


Excerpt from Screen Future
Chapter 3: From Star Trek to Paranormal Activity
A Conversation with Amy Reinhard

 

In the next column we'll continue exploring the parallel universe that is Comic-Con and look a little deeper into the comics industry. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Chris Warner, senior editor at Dark Horse Comics. Chris is an industry veteran. He's been coming to Comic-Con for nearly 20 years and he's witnessed first hand the fascinating changes in the industry.

PS:
For all those who might have answered my "I'm going to Comic-Con..." statement with "Awesome!" I include the following blurry photo of Stan the Man. Stan Lee was still going strong at 2010 Comic-Con. I took this picture on my last day and even though I was completely exhausted, I found myself bounding into the crowd with my camera over my head just another fan-boy.

On the floor at Comic-Con: Stan the Man!! (Photo: BDJ)