Reports are circulating today that 20th Century Fox has decided it will not participate in Hall H panels at San Diego Comic-Con this year, a direct response to repeated incidents involving it and other studios where exclusive footage revealed there is quickly leaked online via cellphone videos and more. Last year in particular Fox had its sizzle reel for Deadpool leaked and Warner Bros. had the exclusive look it prepared for Suicide Squad hit YouTube shortly after it debuted. Fox bit the bullet and released that clip shortly thereafter, as did Warner Bros., but the latter whined about it pretty hard, releasing a statement that chided fans and made it clear the studio was doing this because y’all are jerks, jerks. Fox will continue to participate in other SDCC events, just not in the main hall.
This is Fox pulling the nuclear option in response to these leaks and it’s a big blow to the marketing efforts of whatever the studio might have brought to the event. It’s them saying there are no other options available to stem the tide of leaked clips. As some people pointed out on Twitter, it’s logistically impossible to check 6,000 cellphones at the door as people go in. So with no other options in front of them, the studio has decided to pull the plug entirely.
A Hall H panel is a *huge* part of the marketing for many tentpole releases, an opportunity to have the whole cast of a movie come out and talk about how much fun they had making it, what it was like to dabble in whatever the applicable universe is and so on. It’s a place for studios to firmly tag an upcoming release as an EVENT and get some word-of-mouth for it. These panels are the whole reason many movie news sites go to Comic-Con as they spend the whole weekend either in line for a panel or in the seats at one, rarely if ever setting foot on the actual show floor.
So putting a foot down and refusing to participate is a big trigger to pull. It can eliminate anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of a movie’s presence there.
There are certainly options that could have been available to Fox if piracy of clips was the primary concern. A panel without footage still would have been notable, if slightly less so. But making that move could have slowly changed expectations of what a Hall H event is supposed to be. Maybe not at first, but certainly over time, particularly if other studios got on board and followed their lead. Or they could go in the other direction and release clips as soon as – or nearly so – they’re shown in San Diego. There are issues with both approaches, to be sure, but they are options. And I’m sure there are others, including some that don’t include SDCC but which still involve exclusive events for select influencers or media types. Perhaps that’s where things will wind up going, sacrificing the mass reach of Comic-Con for the more narrow approach of working with a more select, vetted group.
It’s a shame that people have violated the implicit and explicit trust that goes with attending these events. But that’s where we are, where the privilege of being in the room where it happens is superseded by someone’s desire to share something that’s supposed to be an exclusive treat with the world, against the wishes of the rights holder.
I don’t know which side I think is right or wrong, but I do know this could be a sea-change in how movies are marketed. A big tool has been removed from the box and it will be important for Fox and any studios who follow their lead to find an equally impactful replacement.