Movie and TV studios had moved to take advantage of the captive audience, and SDCC’s proximity to Los Angeles gave it a leg-up over other conventions in places like New York and London. In 2007, Marvel Comics even used the platform for Marvel Studios to market its first release, “Iron Man." By 2015, the year “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” debuted with much fanfare, SDCC was attracting close to 170,000 attendees and had become a standalone yearly event on the entertainment calendar.
And yet, in the last couple of years, attendance has begun to fall back. Some of this is due to the production studios themselves: Disney, which is forever trying to do everything in-house, now uses its own conventions (the Star Wars Celebration and D23) to market new projects. As a result, there was little regarding the upcoming sequel “Episode IX” at SDCC this year. Similarly, and for the first time since 2007, Marvel Studios (now owned by Disney) wasn't pushing any of its properties either. (Some Marvel film properties came, but they were owned by rival studio Sony.) Disney will instead focus its modest presence primarily on animated “Star Wars” offerings, with its biggest panel being a far more niche, 10-year-anniversary commemoration of “The Clone Wars.”
On the TV side, this was the first year since “Game of Thrones” began airing that the HBO show was not present. “Westworld” wasn't represented either, meaning that HBO sat this year out entirely. Netflix, after making an aggressive push in 2017, also backed off somewhat, with its arguably biggest offering being the second season follow-up to one of its biggest flops, “Iron Fist.”
Did these absences change the nature of SDCC? Perhaps. Comic conventions are becoming victims of their own success. Local events have swelled in attendance this decade, with new ones popping up all the time. Washington D.C., for instance, did not have a comic convention of its own until 2013. This year, Awesome Con celebrated five years with a diverse attendance that hit close to 70,000 people. Why fly across the country when one can attend a smaller and more intimate convention at home?
If attendance continues to fall and production houses continue to find new ways to market their films and TV shows, conventions like SDCC may have to contract to keep up with the times. But SDCC was never supposed to be about prestige TV stars or mainstream content. Its original purpose was to celebrate the niche and nerdy, and allow every fanbase a moment to shine. Maybe with a little less star power, they can (again).
Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. Regular bylines can be found at Elite Daily, WETA's TellyVisions, and Ani-Izzy.com.