I’m back with my tips on panel strategies. As a vet of the SDCC scene, I’ve seen the cultures of panels change dramatically over the years. The world of panels at SDCC today is a vicious one that requires a great deal of thought on opportunity costs when picking where you’re going to spend your time. If the Firefly Anniversary panel is a must for you, then it must also be understood that you’re going to lose a great deal of sleep as well as time in any other area of the show. That being said, many will make this choice.
In general, I think a mistake many of us make is to look at panels in too simple a light. If you’re like me, you look at the schedule for each day and decide which panels or screenings you’d like to attend. If you follow the good advice of many on the topic, you take it a step further and make sure to double-book yourself, as there are so many curves that can happen in a day and you can frequently come up short on your first choice. For many, this is where it ends. The rest becomes a blur as the frenzied crowds absorb us at the event. It is because of the frenzied nature of this King of Cons that I developed a different way to look at panel choices at SDCC.
Before you read further, I must preface a few things. This strategy is not for everyone. If you are of the mindset that each panel on your list is a “must see” and that by missing any one of them your SDCC will be ruined, these tips are not for you. In your case, I suggest keeping a close eye on the line-up for the day and get to your panels super early. Most importantly, if you don’t like planning, this is not for you! However, if you are like me, there are about 10 panels or more, each day, that you would enjoy. Furthermore, if you’re like me you love the entire SDCC experience. Panels, vendors, exclusives, free swag, off-site activities and cosplayers are all important pieces to the SDCC experience, and as such I’m very protective of each minute. I need to be smart about my choices and I can’t look at things simply as “like” and “dislike.” So, what do I do? Simply, I analyze the situation the way I do most other things in life, opportunity costs.
For those of you who have forgotten your high school economics class, opportunity costs is most frequently defined as the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action. In SDCC terms, I want that exclusive Marvel Universe Helicarrier from Hasbro, but if I fight my way through the mass of humanity to get it, I’ll probably use at least 4-5 hours of my time to do so. Is the Helicarrier important enough for me to give up somewhere between 33%-42% of my SDCC day? For me, the answer is yes.. That being said, if you look at SDCC similarly to the way I do, as the BEST THING IN THE WORLD and WAY TOO SHORT, it helps to make decisions based on the investment of time into each activity.
My strategy, for deciding which panels and screenings to attend, works this way:
1. Identify all panels/screening that hold any interest to me
2. Decide what percentage of my day I’m willing to give up for that panel; I figure my “playtime” is 9AM-9PM, so I base everything on a percentage of that 12 hour day.
3. Make an educated guess as to what percentage of my day the activity will cost, noting the popularity of the other panels in that same room before and after, the panel time itself, and the amount of time that will be necessary waiting in line.
4. Make decisions based on the opportunity costs
It is important, when making these assumptions, to consider the scarcity and uniqueness of each item/activity. For example, as much as I want to see a panel for Game of Thrones, I live near Los Angeles and think the opportunity will present itself at a different time and venue (PaleyFest, maybe?). I’ve skipped opportunities with Stan Lee, Damon Lindelof, the cast of The Walking Dead, etc at SDCC so that I could see them in a less crowded location later in the year. That being said, if you are coming from a place where there are few opportunities like this, you will have to give a greater value to SDCC panels. Had I not seen The Walking Dead Panel, at the Paley Center last year, I’d definitely be in the crazy Hall H line on Friday. Also, in regards to most screenings, remember that, as cool as they are, they are usually little more than free tickets to the movies. Two years ago when confronted with the opportunity to go to the Scott Pilgrim screening, I passed. It was hard to give up the cool opportunity, but it just wasn’t worth that much SDCC time, when I could see it at the movie theater a few weeks later.
To use myself as an example, here is a slice of my interest list for Thursday, followed by the approximate time investment I think it will require. Bolded lines are those that have a positive outcome; simply, I’m willing to give up more of my day than I estimate will be required to get in and participate in the panel:
10:30 – 11:30 AM BSG: So Say We All I am willing to invest 10% (around 1 hour, 15 minutes-I just want to walk in and sit down) of my 12 hours of playtime; I estimate it will cost 20% (2 hours, 30 minutes) of my playtime
1:00 – 2:00 PM Marvel: House of Ideas will invest 30%; costs 20%
2:00 – 3:00 PM DC: Beyond Night of the Owls will invest 25%; costs 10%
2:05 – 3:05 PM Walt Disney Studios will invest 20%; costs 50% AND will cost sleep from outside the day (whole different level of opportunity cost)
It is important to note, that “deals” can be had. For example, if you love Game of Thrones, Walt Disney films, and The Big Bang Theory your investment can cover many costs. Then it really becomes a question of whether or not you are willing to sleep outside Hall H the night before. Remember that if you make this choice, it will not only impact how you spend your Friday but it will stretch on both sides to how your Thursday night plays out as well as Friday night (you will be dead tired!).
Although I’ve provided a very small sample size of panels above, you can tell a few things about me:
1. Some panels are more important to me than others
2. I’m not willing to spend more than a third of my day on any single panel
3. In most cases, I’m only willing to spend about 15 minutes waiting for a panel
4. I’m one of the few people with English Literature degrees in America that likes math
Based on the opportunity costs, I’m left with 2 panels that seem to have more value to me than they actually will cost:
1. Marvel: House of Ideas
2. DC: Beyond Night of Owls
I realize that, to some, this approach may seem like over-thinking, but for me it is an important step. Simply, every hour of SDCC is really important to me. We all countdown the days leading up to the event and then it is gone in a flash. I want to make sure that I don’t get caught up spending more time on endeavors than I would if I gave it a little thought. I love panels, but I’m not a panel junkie. I want to experience all aspects of SDCC, rather than being locked in only one room all day. Simply, I’m not willing to dedicate 50% of any SDCC day engaged in any single activity. Even as obsessed as I am with collecting, if that Helicarrier will require 6-7 hours to obtain, I won’t be getting it. When Monday morning comes, I want to have experienced all aspects of SDCC in a variety of ways and at a variety of times.
Lastly, regardless of your plan for panels, make sure to follow line times at “#SDCCLines” on Twitter. You’ll be surprised at some of things you’ll find by using this helpful tool throughout the weekend.
If you have any questions on panel estimates, Tweet me on Twitter (@The_Con_Fluence).