A Streamer Free Con Comes with Mixed Feelings

The year is coming to a close, and the strikes started in #hotlaborsummer have finally reached their end. So I wanted to look back at how the strikes (and the studios and streaming services that kicked them off) affected the convention scene this year.

We all know the lore. Star Trek conventions have been happening for decades, and comic book nerds have been convening since thee 1960s. But the current era of cons, the TV- and film-led era, came when major Hollywood money started to invest in IP like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and eventually, Marvel. New fans latched on with alacrity. Cons grew in size, with attendance in the hundreds of thousands. NYCC boasted 260,000 in 2019; this year it reached a sizeable 200,000. So what happened this year, when the streamers had to back down? TV fans were left disappointed but comics fans had more room to play.

I’ve written before about how the strikes reach is more than just those who were in Los Angeles on the picket lines. The Toronto and Cape Town film industries have seemingly shut down. Work has dried up for podcasts and post houses, caterers, and freelancers. But at NYCC 2023, people seemed afraid to speak publicly about how their businesses were affected. I spoke with three vendors who had ups and downs this year. None of them wanted to use their names. And they couldn’t identify if it was the strikes, inflation, or a post-pandemic recalibration that made a difference from last year to this one. So from a vendor standpoint, the strikes were neither here nor there.

I also spoke to several fans who were supportive of the strikes (most seemed to be), but were disappointed that they couldn’t ask their faves about the shows they know and love. Due to strike rules, promotions were not allowed. Chris Evans could only discuss his dog, or David Tennant spent time tying his shoes. (On a personal note, I was personally devastated by the no-promo rule, since I rescheduled a trip to Japan around NYCC, convinced that a certain long-running sci-fi show that Tennant is well-acquainted with would have a blowout panel. I was left disappointed. Not by David tho, never by David.) 

But there was another camp, the non-TV fans, the ones who come for the art and comics and anime, who seemed excited with the breathing room they now had once the major streamers left the arena. A few of these folks were older, and had been attending the cons for years. In some ways, it was a return to what had always been: a nerd-centric, not studio-centric, convention. 

Credit: @lordbpt on Instagram

Writers, actors, and creatives deserve to get paid, and I 100% stand in solitary with SAG and those who were on the picket lines. But I’m also hoping that post-strikes, the streamers don’t return with the same gusto as they did before. I think a balance should be struck off for the panel nerds, and the comic nerds. Between Reedpop and the streamers like Amazon, HBO, Netflix and Hulu, comic cons feel too corporate, too much like a salesman’s pitch, instead of a fan inspired event. (This is not a comment on the staff, who work extraordinarily hard to make fans the center of everything.)

So where is that balance, and what is that line? I don’t have a solution. But the age of big corporate fan services may be reaching its limits. Let’s give fandom back to the fans.

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