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Comic-Con 2020: Some panel participation topped 200K views, but did the online event work?

Phillip Molnar
San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego -- More people viewed portions of the online-only Comic-Con International this weekend than could ever fit in the San Diego Convention Center. But online buzz didn't match the viral reach of past years.

San Diego's biggest event was forced to go fully on the internet for its 51st year because of COVID-19. More than 300 panels, which would normally be spread out throughout the center and parts of downtown, were uploaded steadily to YouTube over five days. All were free to view.

Fans of Comic-Con set up a makeshift memorial on July 22, 2020 in San Diego, California. 2020 Comic-Con International occurred as a virtual event, Comic-Con@Home, this year due to the coronavirus epidemic.

The event is typically limited to 135,000 attendees but two panels topped 200,000 views _ the TV show "Vikings" and the movie, "The New Mutants." Normally, those events would have been held in Comic-Con's biggest room, Hall H, which has a capacity of 6,500 people.

Measuring the success of the convention is tricky. Fan responses were mostly appreciative and positive over social media, but a lack of big names, like Marvel Studios, and the new format may have limited its impact. Analytics firm ListenFirst told Variety that social media traffic for the online event was considerably down compared to last year with 95% fewer mentions on Twitter.

Viewership isn't an apples-to-apples comparison vis a vis the in-person show. That's because panels can be viewed online long after they first go live, and it is hard to tell if people who were viewing the event would have actually bought tickets.

However, it might give studio executives a better indication of what is actually connecting with fans. For instance, in 2019, Hall H was at capacity for Entertainment Weekly's "Women Who Kick Ass" panel, but was everyone there for that or for Marvel Studios that was happening right after that panel?

Wendy Patrick, a social media expert and business lecturer at San Diego State University, said seeing the YouTube views could give organizers a better sense of what is really a priority for fans. She considered the views for the event high considering so much is missing from the usual Comic-Con _ activations outside, people roaming around in elaborate costumes, and the energy of a live convention.

"That just goes to show you the amount of interest, even though they are missing all the excitement, all the energy," she said. "I mean, the whole town goes crazy for a couple of days. You can't recreate that online. Not even close."

Patrick said Comic-Con@Home allowed people who would not normally be able to attend the gathering to see it online, and that might actually increase interest for first-time attendees when it returns in subsequent years.

Fans of Comic-Con set up a makeshift memorial on July 22, 2020 in San Diego, California. 2020 Comic-Con International occurred as a virtual event, Comic-Con@Home, this year due to the coronavirus epidemic.

There were, of course, a lot of niche panels that attracted little online attention. For instance, a panel from a smaller Syracuse, New York-based comic book company called Ahoy Comics had 281 views as of Monday morning.

"I think the menu is too broad, that many people won't scroll through that many choices," Patrick said.

Organizers of Comic-Con International were not available for an interview Monday so it is unclear how it is measuring success. The event was missing some of its biggest names _ the film divisions of DC and Marvel, as well as "Star Wars" _ so most Comic-Con watchers were prepared for less buzz than previous years.

Here are the most popular Comic-Con@Home panels (as of Monday morning), based on number of views:

Vikings: 215,943 views

The History show won the prize for the most views with a panel that featured showrunner Michael Hirst and five of the program's stars. Anticipation is high for "Vikings," with its sixth season finishing this year and bringing to an end the popular drama.

The New Mutants: 208,410 views

Possibly the last X-Men film of the 20th Century Fox era, "The New Mutants" has been delayed repeatedly since 2018 but excitement for the film appears to be growing. Surprisingly, the panel did not announce that the film would be released on streaming platforms, as many fans had expected, but that it would be in theaters Aug. 28. It seems like a strange release date considering most theaters in the United States are still closed because of the pandemic.

The Walking Dead: 85,029 views

A zombie epic that has now spread into three shows, "The Walking Dead" continued its major presence at Comic-Con with its flagship show on Friday. The panel featured preview clips and its biggest star, Norman Reedus.

Star Trek Universe: 63,213 views

The Star Trek panel was one of the few at the convention that came with major announcements. CBS producers confirmed a new show called "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" that will revisit classic characters over 10 episodes and a kid-friendly animated show on Nickelodeon called "Star Trek: Prodigy" premiering in 2021.

Fear the Walking Dead: 69,534 views

A spinoff of "The Walking Dead," the "Fear the Walking Dead" has a large following in its own right.

Constantine: 58,258 views

A 15th anniversary panel on the film "Constantine," starring Keanu Reeves, turned out to be a big hit by being one of Comic-Con's most popular panels. The movie has become a cult favorite and Reeves' star power turned out to be a big draw. Despite some wishful think from some fans, no sequel was announced.

The Boys: 53,033 views

Amazon Prime's "The Boys" is a violent comedy about superheroes in the real world and fans were treated to new scenes from the highly-anticipated second season.

Charlize Theron: 48,281 views

Actress Charlize Theron was given a panel all to herself to discuss her action film career. Highlights included insights on newer films "The Old Guard" and "Mad Max: Fury Road," as well as her first big action role in the 2005 "'on Flux."

His Dark Materials: 43,996 views

The HBO show, based on a series of fantasy novels, showcased some of its biggest stars, including Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Bill & Ted Face the Music: 41,958 views

"Bill & Ted Face the Music" will be the third film in the franchise, coming almost 30 years after the last film. Star Keanu Reeves will reprise his role and was featured in the panel.