Peeling back the curtain on CCI

28 JUNE 2015

Something interesting happened this weekend: The New York Times turned its shrewd eye - and somewhat caustic prose - on CCI.

Articles about San Diego Comic-Con abound, of course. But little information is to be found on the people who run it - people who can be maddeningly opaque. There's been little communication between SDCC attendees and the organizers with so much power over their Comic-Con experience, and the frustrations of attendees tend to go unanswered. The type of cursory feedback mechanisms offered by most companies - such as post-event surveys - is nonexistent with CCI; there's barely any transparency into who decides what or why certain decisions are made, and attendees are largely left in the dark as a result. When sales go painfully awry - as with Hotel Day this year - the general response from CCI is silence. Given the various pains associated with SDCC (badge sales, lines, tech meltdowns) this has driven part of the distaste expressed online toward both the convention and the people behind it.

That said, CCI has stepped up their game in the last few years. They started a blog, they have Talkback panels at their Cons, and they've been sharing more information on their issues with staying in San Diego. They create helpful content like badge sale videos. David Glanzer was candid in a recent interview with the SDCC Unofficial Blog. Personally I'd like to see them share more, embrace change and be less guarded - but it can't be denied they are trying to meet attendee needs while becoming slightly more open.

Which is how we got this revelatory article from NYT. A few tidbits:

  • CCI "has a longstanding reluctance to discuss its affairs or even, for the most part, to share more than rudimentary details about its leaders." You don't say. They behave "less like a business or conventional nonprofit than a collective of shadowy guardians." But we know they have about 3 dozen paid employees and a volunteer membership of a few hundred people. Interestingly, "the nonprofit's directors have no professional interest in the comic or fantasy business."

  • One of the biggest organizational challenges: "Are competing conventions misappropriating the Comic-Con brand?" So not what I would have called a top challenge, given the convention center expansion and hotel issues. And "Will it be able to protect its fans-first image?" Right there you see the breakdown between the organization and the attendees. The organization is worried more about its image than attendee experience - which is why they do not, in fact, have a "fans-first image." Though I'm sure they genuinely want attendees to be happy.

  • The article finds a way to reveal CCI's net worth: "Will anything be done with the group's nest egg which included net assets of about 16.4 million in mid-2013 and has been growing at perhaps 3 million a year since?" Smooth, New York Times.

  • The oft-discussed issue of the hotels raising rates got a number attached: "450 or more a night." Ouch.

  • The convention center charges CCI 150K for the Con, 65% less than non-discounted rent.

  • Comic book artists get free trade show space. Small press publishers get a discount, while studios and "paraphernalia salesman" pay big sums for their booths. BUT studios get that sweet Hall H space for free. Well, kind of; it's the extras that have a price tag. Just using the wraparound movie screens costs 600K per hour.

  • The Exhibit Hall brings in more than 4.6 million for CCI. All in all, they take in 15 million from their conventions and have expenses about of 12 million.

  • The lawsuit against Salt Lake Comic Con was not unique. Warning letters and licensing agreements have been used with more than a dozen conventions that "have used some form of the Comic-Con name" which was trademarked only in 2007.

  • The VOD service with Lionsgate will offer movies, shorts, new series and archival footage. It kicks off next April.

What didn't get addressed: the possibility of a streaming service, which is rapidly becoming a hot topic. That alone would be an incredible revenue item. But on the whole, this was a great article that should be of interest to any attendee who's wanted to peel back the SDCC curtain and see who's at the controls.
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