DC’s FanDome set the new gold standard for virtual events

By Julia Alexander

Host Aisha Tyler inside the FanDome arena.
DC Comics

In a time when we’re oversaturated with virtual events, it’s impossible not to notice that most of them don’t exactly run smoothly. There are technical issues, sessions that run too long, and people so burned out on Zoom chats that sitting down for another video call on a Saturday afternoon is torturous.

It’s for these reasons that the sheer excellence of DC FanDome is so striking.

DC FanDome was an eight-hour virtual convention held by DC Comics and Warner Bros. to highlight some of the biggest films, TV shows, game, and comics announcements. The biggest panels — those dedicated to Warner Bros. and DC’s film slate, including The Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman 1984, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League — were sandwiched between short sketches, interviews, rapid Q&As, and little tributes to the world of DC. FanDome was a testament to the power of having a unique platform to showcase content and host talent, alongside nailing the programming lineup.

DC’s creative team, headed by chief creative officer Jim Lee, understands the biggest problem facing virtual conventions is how tedious they quickly become. We’re spending all of our time staring at a screen — phones, laptops, TVs, tablets — now even more so than usual. Asking people to spend eight hours staring at one screen without it feeling like a mind-numbing affair is difficult.

It felt like Lee and and his team designed around that monotonous feeling — especially the one that comes with watching a bunch of different Zoom calls back to back. FanDome panels were kept short and sweet, and the quick bites that appeared in between acted like mini breaks. Think of them less as commercials (remember when commercials acted as bathroom breaks or the perfect opportunity to grab a snack from the kitchen?) and more like the bumpers (or “bumps”) that played on Adult Swim. They’re just fun and weird enough, tailored for the specific interests of people tuning in to watch, to keep the convention feeling fresh all day.

A big part of what made that concept work is the platform. Unlike San Diego Comic-Con, which also went virtual this year with panel videos premiering across various YouTube channels, DC FanDome existed in a special-built, green-screen-reliant space. The way the virtual stage was constructed, it felt like there was a depth to the room that made FanDome seem much grander than any old room that we’ve seen on so many Zoom calls over the last few months. Guest video streams were placed on the walls of the virtual dome so they sat side by side, interacting with one another whenever possible.

Director Matt Reeves in the virtual FanDome arena talking about The Batman.

FanDome felt like a spectacle because it was designed to be one — and it worked. And because everything was housed within a specific DC Comics portal, WarnerMedia didn’t have to worry about panels accidentally running into copyright issues and not playing, like Comic-Con did multiple times.

Now, there are a few key things to point out: none of the panels seemed live. Interviews looked prerecorded. WarnerMedia (parent company of Warner Bros. and DC Comics) also has an in-house editing team. Being given time to edit together an eight-hour show is a lot easier to do than trying to work with live feeds from around the world. The teams had time to figure out how to make a virtual convention feel like something worth tuning into for eight hours. Even the convention’s cornier moments, and smaller panels that weren’t as interesting, worked because of how the entire event was planned.

Virtual gatherings aren’t going away. They’re still happening on YouTube, in games like Minecraft, and on new specialty platforms that brands are experimenting with on their own. Complex Networks, for example, is launching a week-long virtual convention called ComplexLand, designed to be a “virtual universe featuring customizable avatars, exclusive drops, musical performances, conversations, screenings and more,” according to a press release.

Virtual conventions are long. People are watching at home, in their rooms, instead of in giant ballrooms packed with other excited fans. Trying to bring some of that convention energy to people digitally is immensely difficult, but what FanDome proved is that figuring out pacing and giving audiences something to actually look at in place of Zoom call screens they’re already exhausted by goes a long way.