Some have called it a convening of the greatest creative minds in pop-culture today. Others have called it a nerdy meeting for nerdy nerds. But most call it Comic-Con, the international pop-culture convention held annually in San Diego, California featuring the latest in popular film, television, sci-fi, games, toys, and yes – even comic books.
Comic-Con wasn’t always so diverse. Back in 1970 when the first San Diego Comic Book Convention took place, it was an intimate meeting of about 300 fans celebrating their favorite comic book writers and artists. In fact, Ray Bradbury sat on one of the very first panels. But today it plays host to hundreds of thousands of visitors and encompasses just about every genre of entertainment from Hollywood to fan fiction to action figures and cartoons.
This past weekend closed the 2013 convention and with 130,000 attendees it was a resounding success. What made this Comic-Con so special for us was that for the first time 20 cable networks attended the show – nearly doubling cable’s presence compared to two years ago.
Cable networks like HBO, AMC, and SyFy spent four days proudly presenting its show’s biggest stars and offering candid insights into characters, show production, and even broke news for upcoming seasons. But perhaps more thrilling than the news that Game of Thrones will begin filming it’s fourth season this summer [SPOILER ALERT] is the idea that cable as a medium is delivering content worthy of the hyper-fandom that only Comic-Con can deliver.
It wasn’t long ago that cable was seen as a second-choice content medium. Cable hosted the small budget, niche audience programming that either couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be supported by one of the “big four” networks. But short time has revealed that the content model that cable is built around is ideally suited for big-budget, risky, diverse programming worthy of fan obsession.
Could a character like Walter White or Tony Soprano ever exist on a broadcast network? Maybe. But could an honest, gritty, sometimes graphic drama be written around them? No way. Cable offers a level of flexibility to writers and show creators that traditional networks can’t. And because cable networks rely on both subscriptions and commercials, networks are able to take risks on more expensive, exciting, visually stunning programs without needing tens of millions of viewers. Sure, there’s a bit of geek in all of us, but constructing dozens of niche programs for a small, hard-core fan base like Comic-Con’s is only possible through cable.
Take for example the craze and excitement over the reveal of the first minutes of episode one for the final season of Breaking Bad. Top cable networks go to Comic-Con for this kind of exciting response and know that feeding their core fans with exclusive news creates the cult following that makes a cable show a success.
Part of what we at NCTA love about working in the cable industry is knowing that we’re supporting the stories, characters, and writers that serve as today’s cultural touchstones. Nothing confirms that more than when we see a community of fans like Comic-Con show its appreciation like they did this past week in San Diego.