How Does Disney’s D23 Expo Measure Up to San Diego Comic-Con?

[Editor’s Note: For many of our readers, San Diego Comic-Con is the only convention they attend each year. But interest and popularity is increasing within the convention scene, so we wanted to take a look at how the other big cons stack up against SDCC. This week, Shawn takes a look at Disney’s ‪‎D23‬ convention, which was held in Anaheim (the same location as WonderCon) last week.]

d23 expo

This August 9th-11th, Disney held their 3rd bi-annual fan event, D23 Expo. After much speculation as to how the show would impact San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), we finally have answers to that question. More importantly, now that we are moving to the middle of August we can look back and see how this event measures up next to the King of Cons, SDCC. So what are the differences and similarities between D23 Expo and SDCC? Read on to find more.

Tickets: Before going any further in looking at the events, it is important to look at the accessibility for people to get into the shows. Unlike SDCC, D23 Expo does not sell out in minutes. Tickets generally go on sale over a year in advance and have a tiered system of pricing. As such, there is a reward for booking early when prices are lower, but in the case of this year only Saturday sold out in advance of the convention. Saturday sold out just before the show and Friday sold out the morning of it. Sunday did not sell out. Additionally, D23 members receive a discount on the ticket prices. Up until a few months ago, D23 membership was a minimum fee of $34.99. This changed recently as Disney offered a level of membership that is free but still provided the discounted ticket prices. With D23 membership and buying the full year in advance the three-day price was $115. The other extreme would be buying the week of the event without D23 membership in which case the price is $166. As nice as it is that tickets have been easy to acquire, the acquisitions of Marvel and Star Wars are bringing a lot of new fans to the show. Unfortunately, Disney does not provide membership updates so it is important to buy early going forward to maximize savings as well as to make sure that you’re not caught without a ticket if they make a big announcement regarding programming.

Length of Con: Unlike SDCC with four full days and a preview night, D23 Expo is only 3 days. These are three full days with programming and exhibits open from 10AM-7PM. D23 members get an additional benefit of entering the hall an hour early each morning.

Exhibitors: The acquisition of Marvel and LucasFilm have made the exhibitor floor look a little bit more like SDCC than it had in the past. Whereas vendors had very little beyond Disney-specific items in 2011, 2013 brought lots of Marvel and Star Wars. From action figures to posters and prints, you never had to look to far to find a Captain America plush doll or a Darth Vader Christmas ornament. That said, as with all cons there is no real comparison to SDCC. This video gives you an idea of what could be found on the show floor:

Interactive Experiences: SDCC is known for its uniqueness in interactive experiences. Whether it’s on the showroom floor at the AMC The Walking Dead booth or outside at the Godzilla exhibit, SDCC is all about getting up close to the action. While D23 Expo had some shared features like the Once Upon A Time booth, the real heart of the the D23 Expo is the hands-on experiences in the park area of the floor. This year, Disney chose to highlight the 60th anniversary of Imagineering and allowed fans to take a tour of their offices with some really cool highlights. Here is a look inside Journey into Imagineering:

Programming: The overall tone of programming at D23 Expo is very different than SDCC. Whereas San Diego Comic-Con feels like a gathering of fans, many of the D23 Expo panels feel like shareholder meetings or walks though history. Both of the latter can be very entertaining, but they don’t quite have the zest and potential for surprise that SDCC is known for. The biggest difference can be summed up in the fact that the major film and gaming panels at D23 Expo are moderated by Disney executives rather than an entertainer like Chris Hardwick. Although there was big Hollywood star power at D23 Expo with the likes of Chris Evans, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman on stage, their time was brief and much more formal than at SDCC where it felt very much like what it essentially was: they were being interviewed by their boss rather than a fan of their work as is the case with most moderators at conventions. All of this being said, the historical offerings of panels at D23 Expo is unrivaled when it comes to the roots of the company. There is nowhere in the world that pays such respect to the luminaries that have made Disney what it is today. If you’re a fan of Disney on any level, the panels that focus on the past are a must-see event. To an extent, that really sums up the panels at D23 Expo–they are superior at respecting and showcasing the past while being only mediocre at exciting people for the future. This seems likely to change as Disney grows more accustomed to running a convention, but 2013 left fans looking for new Star Wars feeling empty, and fans looking for new Marvel news wondering why they were mostly getting repeat footage from Comic-Con.

Exclusives and Swag: Disney controls all of the exclusives and swag to a much greater extent than anything we see at SDCC. This is so much the case that Disney actually has three stores that are set-up just to facilitate the selling of their exclusives. In the end, there were still a ton of goodies in swag and exclusives. Here is more on the topic:

Lines and Attendance: It’s difficult to compare lines of the D23 Expo to those of SDCC. The magnitude of people is significantly different which brings with it an inherent advantage to get to things with greater ease at D23 Expo. That said, there are some points of importance. Because there is a separate entry one hour early for those that are D23 members there is some difficulty in distinguishing lines at D23 Expo. Whereas SDCC has a Hall H line and an “everything else” line before opening,  D23 Expo has a line for the arena and then two different lines the showroom (member & non-member). The greatest criticism of D23 Expo may be the general lack of team members from the show to guide people. All that said, the policy of not allowing lines until 5AM helped greatly in making lines so that there was little camping. Although some still lined up outside the parameters of the property, the stance by Disney made it so there wasn’t a “camping culture” to deal with. Additionally D23 Expo piloted a FastPass-type system for their ballrooms which made it substantially quicker to get into programming in those two rooms. Although it could take 30 minutes to get the pass, it meant attendees only had to then show up 15 minutes early to the panel itself. This proved especially useful on the sold-out Friday and Saturday days. Despite a lack of a FastPass for the 4,000 seat arena, the wait for the live-action panel was 4 hours at most. With that wait came the reward of all the same Marvel footage, but less punch in delivery (no Whedon nor did Hiddleston wear his Loki gear). Furthermore, with a clearing of rooms after each panel, the wait is directly tied to one panel. The less crowded Sunday afforded even shorter waits where it was possible to walk in minutes before the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. screening, as well as the big Disney Interactive panel.

It was very obvious that D23 Expo took a huge leap forward this year. Just as SDCC has had to grapple with challenges that are inherent in a show that is very popular, Disney is feeling their way out to find the best mix of programming and offerings. With more than 40 years in the business of cons, SDCC has a ton of experience that they have put to good use and ultimately the community looks at Comic-Con International (CCI) as a model. For only its third time out f the gate, D23 Expo was a very impressive show. It is not something that we’d advocate choosing over SDCC, but it is an awesome complimentary piece. Furthermore, it is totally unparallelled when it comes to celebrating the culture of Disney. So, if you’re a Disney fan this is one show you would not want to meet.

Did you go to D23 Expo? Planning to attend the next one in 2015? Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think.

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