My Sunday SDCC 2013 coverage was supposed to be filled with TV talk, with some of my favorite series getting panels back-to-back: Supernatural, Breaking Bad, Doctor Who (pause for Community), and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, though I got up before 5am and paid $25 for a taxi to make sure I’d get in line earlier than the available free ride from my fabulous host would’ve allowed, and was in line just before 6am, I didn’t get in to Hall H until 1pm. Fortunately I had great company in line- there was a group of nice, entertaining, and intelligent people around me and a couple buddies even dropped by to say hi over the course of my 7 hour wait. By the time I got in for the second half of Doctor Who, I’d already made plans to record content for our TV podcast, The Televerse, immediately after the Who panel, so all that waiting amounted to around 30 minutes of audience Q&A. All of this would be perhaps somewhat dispiriting, but an accepted and even embraced part of the ComicCon experience, except that once I got in to Hall H and sat down, I saw at least 7 open seats in my immediate vicinity, that I could have reached out and touched while still seated. Those of us waiting eagerly in line had been reading tweets about open seats left and right, but to see such a glaring example in person was shocking. By the end of the panel, 4 of the seats had been filled, but 3 hadn’t, and I’d waited in line next to people in Doctor Who cosplay for 7 hours who would’ve loved those seats.
The lines at ComicCon have been growing over the past several years and camping culture (getting in a room early in the day regardless of your interest and sitting through everything until your panel of choice) has become an accepted and even necessary strategy for those determined to see specific panels. This is now a fact of ComicCon and attendees are adapting. But the Con needs to adapt too, and at this point, what could easily have been 100 open seats in a hotly anticipated (and awaited) panel should be the exception, not the rule. Obviously this is a complicated issue and I don’t have any brilliant solutions for the Con-wide crunch (hour-long lines were everywhere this year). I do however have a few suggestions for Hall H that seem completely manageable (to me, at least) and I’d love to hear any suggestions you may have, down in the comments. It’s very possible each of these suggestions have been considered and cast aside for perfectly legitimate reasons, but if so, I’d love to hear what those are too.
First of all, the Hall is pitch black. Obviously this is to let the 6500 people see the panelists and screens better. However, when attendees are still being streamed in throughout panels, they go from the bright California sun to complete blackness- I couldn’t see a thing and had to stand around for 5 minutes just to start being able to find a seat. Then, once my eyes had adjusted, I couldn’t tell half the time whether a seat was open. Ballroom 20 dims the lights, but only turns them completely off when footage is being shown. Why not let the lights come up a bit when we’re not screening anything? People could find seats much easier and the whole seating process, after the panels have started, would be much faster.
Secondly, the open seats are usually in the middle of rows. I like sitting on the aisles too- it’s usually the best place to take pictures of the screens and you get a little more personal space. But when you have potentially thousands of people waiting in line outside, sacrifices, like scooching over to eliminate open mid-row seats, should be made. By everyone. This would ensure any open mid-row seats are there because people are in the bathroom or getting food and eliminate any hoarsely yelled, “Is that seat open?”s to the fifth person down the row. There are a number of unspoken contracts we adhere to as part of the culture of Hall H. Ensuring as many people as possible can attend, by making the open seats easily countable and accessible, should be one of them.
Finally, and this one requires more cost and effort, why not put chips on the badges? Not GPS, nothing nearly so Big Brothery, but the kind that distance runners use at marathons so event organizers can keep track of the flow and loved ones can see when racers cross certain distance markers. They’re small, light, flexible, and decently durable. Attach them to the badges when they’re handed out and have attendees walk over one of the distance markers when they enter Hall H (with their badge) and another when they exit. Have a running tally on a nearby computer of the number to have passed one barrier but not the other. Then keep track of how many bathroom passes are out at a given time and add that to the total. Insti-head count. No more, “Can we seat 10 more?”. Instead, “We have 173 open seats” (and, by the way, using suggestion number two, all of these open seats would be conveniently placed at the end of rows). Maybe it’s my inner math geek/statistician, but I don’t understand why something like this hasn’t already been implemented for Hall H and Ballroom 20. Each of the past five years, over 31,000 runners have completed the Chicago Marathon and had their progress more or less tracked throughout. Why can’t we keep track of 6500 in one room?
Oh, and the bit of the Doctor Who panel I did see was alright, if not particularly illuminating. Spoiler alert, Moffat’s not the type to let things slip. The audience seemed to be having a good time, though, and it was great to see so many young women getting in line to ask questions at what is usually assumed to be a male-skewing event.
I spent the rest of Sunday on the event floor and then at one of the absolute highlights of the Con, Starship Smackdown, but I’ll make a separate post for those.