2016 may be a landmark year for San Diego Comic-Con, though not necessarily to the benefit of con-goers. As technology has evolved and camera phones have increased both in quality and quantity, risks of piracy have skyrocketed at events such as San Diego Comic-Con, where film studios often preview exclusive footage that isn’t made available to the general public until months later, or isn’t released (at least in that form) at all. Last year, SDCC was plagued by a couple of major leaks: one was the Suicide Squad sizzle reel and another was the first footage from 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool. Now, rather than go to Comic-Con and risk exclusive footage hitting the web, Fox had decided to forgo the trip altogether.
Per The Wrap, Fox has decided not to showcase its upcoming movie releases in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con this year as it feels it can’t prevent the piracy of custom trailers or exclusive footage. That means no panel for Michael Fassbender’s highly anticipated Assassin’s Creed, no first look at Wolverine 3, no footage from Maze Runner: The Death Cure, and no flashy announcement about upcoming X-Men films like Gambit or Deadpool 2.
This is a huge bummer for folks that are making the trip to San Diego for Comic-Con, and as someone who’s attended the convention the last 4 years in a row, I can attest that Fox consistently put on one of the best panels. But this decision is also entirely understandable from the studio’s point of view. Folks tried to claim that the studios were actually happy about the leaks of Deadpool’s trailer or the Suicide Squad sizzle reel, but the reality is these studios invest a lot of time and money into crafting marketing campaigns that introduce these films to general audiences in the best possible way. To say that these were planned or beneficial is to misunderstand the movie business, and X-Men producer Hutch Parker perfectly explained the flaw in this logic last year:
“The problem with the theory about the marketing is, I don’t actually think it’s good marketing. Leaking footage a year in advance of a movie’s release is not such a good thing. The reason you don’t see footage out that far is you run the risk of it getting stale. Generally speaking, and I can’t speak for other studios — I can’t even speak for Fox any more — but I don’t believe their intention is [for footage to be leaked]. I think their intention is to get the most important opinions and opinion-makers in this community engaged in the promise of what’s coming.”
And given that efforts to police 6,000 people watching exclusive footage are becoming impossible, I’m willing to bet Fox won’t be the only studio sitting Hall H out this year. It’s simply not worth the risk, and as we’ve seen with films like Cowboys & Aliens and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, even the most enthusiastic response to footage at Comic-Con does little to translate to box office success outside the SDCC bubble. So, now that studios can’t contain that the footage they offer to fans as an exclusive treat to those in attendance, it’s simply not really becoming worth it to make the trip.
Sure, studios could show footage that they release online simultaneously—Lionsgate did this with its final two Hunger Games panels, and it’s becoming a more common trend as piracy concerns rise. But what’s the benefit to fans at the convention, then? Once in a while you’ll get a really special panel that’s worthwhile with or without footage, like last year’s one for Star Wars: The Force Awakens or the star-packed panel for X-Men: Days of Future Past, but more often than not actor simply take the stage, wield uninteresting questions, and wave goodbye. The footage makes you feel like you’re getting rewarded for making the long trek (and investment), and probably sleeping outside, just to get into the panel.
Marvel has sat out Hall H before, and I imagine their presence will start to become more diminished as Disney’s own fan convention, D23, becomes bigger and bigger each year. And will Disney—a Comic-Con mainstay—even make the trip this year? Again, I’m willing to bet that Fox isn’t the only major studio sitting Comic-Con out this summer, and we could be seeing the end of an era here as the marketing monstrosity that is San Diego Comic-Con is simply becoming too unwieldy.