After all the trouble they go through to get inside Hall H, the greatest reward for many fans is the promise of exclusive footage. Whether that’s a brand-new teaser trailer or a rough cut of a scene, upcoming films and television shows have been garnering word-of-mouth publicity through these SDCC exclusive clips for years.
For just as long, they’ve been fighting piracy. While Comic-Con warns audiences not to record the screens and employs security staff to help weed out violators, it’s become an inevitability that the “exclusive” footage will leak its way onto YouTube quickly.
While some studios don’t think much of the problem, most have tried to find ways to battle it. Some have simply redefined “exclusive” as “premiere,” posting the footage on their corporate YouTube pages moments after it plays to the Hall H crowd. WB execs called last year’s “Suicide Squad” footage leak “damaging.” Others, like 20th Century Fox, are now electing to skip the con altogether.
If Fox’s reaction becomes boilerplate, the only real losers are the fans and attendees. So what to do about Comic-Con’s incessant piracy problem?
James Gunn, director of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” casually mentioned on Facebook that Marvel has plans for Hall H this year – unspecified “new technology.”
Apple’s Infrared System
Quickly, speculation on what this tech might be turned to Apple’s newly granted patent for an infrared camera system that can remotely turn off an iPhone’s camera when pointed at a stage or screen. The patent is designed to prevent recording of concert performances, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be applied to Comic-Con’s footage screens as well.
The Apple system has the added bonus of allowing you to take pictures of friends or other things around you – but not the screen or stage.
Except, plenty of SDCC attendees use Android phones. How would using Apple’s technology, if it’s even ready for primetime, prevent piracy on Android or even Windows Phone? It obviously doesn’t work on a regular ol’ camera, but those are more obvious to watchful security staff.
And the old system of collecting attendee’s phones and cameras just isn’t practical – Disney has tried it at their D23 Expos, and it’s expensive (due to the increased staff), time consuming, and is a liability risk (in the event items are damaged or stolen).
There are other options out there – and they’re already being widely used in the film, music, and live event industries.
So far, Yondr seems to have cornered the cell-phone-free concert market. The startup’s system allows you to keep your phone with you, but don’t allow you to use it. Louis CK, The Lumineers, Alicia Keys, and Dave Chappelle have all made headlines by using Yondr at their shows.
Yondr’s CEO knows that holding phones at the entrance doesn’t work: “People just don’t want to give up possession of their phone. It’s like an extra arm.” So Yondr’s location-specific locking soft cases keep your phone in your pocket but not in use.
Yondr pouches are available in multiple sizes to fit various phones. Staff pass out the cases at the entrance and make sure each attendee puts their phone inside. Once you enter Hall H, the pouches would lock. If you need to use your phone, you’d leave Hall H and go out to the lobby, where the Yondr pouch would automatically unlock.
It would be challenging to implement Yondr on a crowd of 6,500 people who all arrive at the same time, but it’s possible – Yondr says they can handle a crowd of up to 20,000.
Unfortunately, there’s one big problem with Yondr for an event like Comic-Con: as much as studios don’t want you to record their footage, they also really, really want to you talk about it. They’re relying on your word-of-mouth impressions of what you see to drive other people to go see the film.
That means they need you to be on social media. But how can you tweet when your phone is locked in a pouch?
SDCC needs a solution that allows attendees access to their devices, but not to the camera feature. Enter PICpatch, creators of single-use stickers that cover your device’s camera lens.
While Yondr has the support of musicians and comedians, the sticker solution has been embraced by your favorite film franchise: they were required of every visitor to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens set in 2014, after the film was plagued by leaked photos.
PICpatch make such stickers, and describes them as “Tamper Evident.” They could be quickly applied by security at the entrance to Hall H, wrapping the phone to cover the front and back cameras. The stickers go on in a solid color. When the sticker is peeled back, the security feature activates and a “void” imprint becomes visible.
Better Than Nothing?
Of course, neither solution is foolproof. Both Yondr and PICpatch come at an additional cost – and who foots that bill, the studios or the badge holders? Both require additional manpower to distribute (and it the case of Yondr, re-collect at the end). Although Apple’s patent has been granted, it’s unclear if the technology is actually ready to be implemented. None of these options are a guarantee against piracy.
But any option at this point would reduce the number of devices that could possibly pirate content in SDCC’s panels. It might be enough to placate nervous studio execs, and make it easier for Comic-Con’s security staff to catch the folks responsible for the leaks.
Either way, we’ll be seeing something new in Hall H next Saturday if Gunn is to be believed. How much of an inconvenience attendees will be willing to put up with to watch a few minutes of “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” remains to be see.