Pearls are the traditional gift for a 30th anniversary. But since getting over 70,000 pearls would be a little problematic, DragonConTV got creative and went a different route, giving us something that we’ve wanted for years: live streaming. The Daily Dragon chatted with videography director Brian Richardson to discuss the new streaming service as well as a new way to watch the iconic Dragon Con parade!
Daily Dragon (DD): Thanks for taking the time out to talk with me. Let’s start out with talking about the parade. First, how long have you been covering the parade for DragonConTV?
Brian Richardson (BR): So I started the DragonConTV official coverage back in 2004. We wouldn’t cover the entire parade; we would go out with a camera or two and shoot kind of a highlights of the parade. We tried different formulas with it. In 2004 we did a fake DragonConTV newscast, and we ended up using the commentators from that, Stephen and Kat, to do the commentary from the parade in their character. That sort of flowed down to eventually Kat wasn’t able to do it and Stephen had other obligations, so I would do it with Dana and then I ended up settling on doing it with Crispy. It evolved into doing a full coverage of the parade in a quasi-Macy’s Thanksgiving Day style, just without the balloons. That turned into about three years ago us doing it live to the internal TV network. So instead of having to wait for us to go in and edit everything down, we were doing it live from corner of Peachtree and Baker.
DD: So through that experience, what’s something that you’ve learned either about the parade, about the con, about yourself?
BR: I learned a couple of things. One is that having done podcasting for seven years, I picked up a skill that I’ve heard about from sportscasters when they’re covering a live event. A sportscaster continues to talk until he thinks of something to say. Covering a live event, part of what you do as a host is you fill the time where something less interesting than the host is happening. If you have a good event, the least interesting thing about it is the host. If you’re watching the Olympics for Bob Costas, maybe you have a separate set of life priorities. So, I learned that part of my job is to kind of keep the event moving when the event is figuratively or literally not moving.
And I also learned that even though I’ve been doing cons since ’98 and I am a fully qualified card-carrying nerd, there’s a whole bunch of this culture I still don’t know. Stuff will pop up in the parade that I’ll have no idea what that costume is. Crispy and Ryan probably do. Or Crispy doesn’t know what that costume is and Ryan or I might know. It shows how wide of a variance you get at Dragon Con and how wide of an umbrella we have for covering science fiction.
DD: It’s one of the things I really love about the con and why I come every year because it is so diverse. It is so exciting to have the parade coverage now be on the local CW channel in Atlanta. Especially because it is so important to the con and it has become so important to the city of Atlanta. Can you talk a little bit about how the deal came about?
BR: That one I’ve really got to give credit to Billy Messina. He’s one of the unseen forces of the con who handles a lot of the promotions and sponsorships. He’s been trying to get the con parade televised by a regular network for years. This just happened to be the year where everything came together. The CW was a really good choice because they’re a very sci-fi focused network right now. They have The Flash, Arrow, The 100; they’re one of the few broadcast networks that’s really running with sci-fi and fantasy and comics as a lead on their programming. It’s a good fit from that standpoint.
They also have the facility to do it. The CW covers the Falcons pre-season games, so they’ve got a satellite truck! They have a live production crew. This is something that they have experience doing.
I got involved and named as a host probably a month, month and a half ago. I’ve been working with them in pre-production, going down and having meetings and talking about all the boring logistics part of it. And you think a pre-production meeting is going to be the dullest thing in the universe, but these people are genuinely excited about covering this. They are just thrilled to death about having the chance to put this on the air and put all the production behind it. They’re getting some involvement from Six Flags and Netherworld, and they’re getting some guests that are from the CW who also happen to be at Dragon Con to make appearances. It’s going to be really cool.
It’s also going to be a different view of the parade because most people focus on that view in front of the hotels, around Peachtree and Baker. What we’re after [with the CW coverage] is more of the head of the parade, more around Peachtree and Pine. That’s not a place where people in the parade are used to being viewed, so they’re going to get a different energy and a different snapshot from sort of the head of the parade.
DD: So it definitely won’t be a “look at the freaks and geeks on the streets of Atlanta.” It’s going to be a legit coverage.
BR: That was the other thing. They insisted on bringing someone from Dragon Con in to work as the host because they wanted somebody who had the convention’s viewpoint and experience with the convention. They wanted to see it as much from Dragon Con’s viewpoint as possible. They didn’t want to come in as these weird outsiders like a Jane Goodall documentary where you sit in the shrubs and observe our quaint behaviors from afar.
DD: What time will the coverage on the CW start and how long is it planned to last?
BR: The CW will cover it live on their network, which is channel 69 if you’re using that antenna technology. Otherwise you have to—and I don’t get to say this normally—check your local listings. It will be a live event at 10AM. It’s not going to be covered by CW nationally, just the CW locally.
Now, they’re a regular broadcast network so they have to stop at 11AM for the next program, so it’s possible that a little bit of the end of the parade will get cut off. They will replay the parade at 8PM, and that will be the full coverage if they have to trim it down. They’ll also have an archive of it on their website for the next year.
Our coverage on DragonConTV will still be going on; it doesn’t cancel out what Crispy and Ryan are going to be doing. So you get these two different viewpoints. The DragonConTV coverage is commercial free; it’ll run the full length of the parade no matter what. You’ll be able to watch that in your hotel rooms.
The nice thing is that people have been saying that they can watch both: they can watch from their hotel room and record it to watch again when they get home so they can kind of re-live the convention. Or, I have local friends who have no idea what I do and this is kind of a good way to slowly bring them into the culture of the convention. “Here, you don’t know what I do every Labor Day, watch this one hour.”
DD: Or if you’re not in one of the host hotels and you can’t get to the parade, you can just turn on the CW in your hotel room.
BR: Yeah, or if there was some other way for Dragon Con members to watch DragonConTV… maybe on a tablet or a phone…
DD: We’re gonna get there, I promise!
BR: Spoiler alert!
DD: As you mentioned, you are going to be one of the hosts on the CW for the parade coverage. Who from the CW is joining you?
BR: I can’t tell you, yet. I’m not going to have a dedicated co-host—this is called a tease in the broadcast business. What is happening is that I’m going to be joined at different times by various guests from either Netherworld or a CW property.
DD: That’s exciting! So, how nervous are you?
BR: Well, I’m more worried about the Netherworld folks because the CW people—these are professionals in their field. I’m not worried about their knowledge of the industry or their ability to perform on camera. Netherworld is run by a bunch of crazy people who get together and dress up in costumes and scare you for money. So I’m not sure how that’s going to go, but you should watch because it’ll be live TV!
DD: It will be… something. No matter what.
BR: It will be something. And we will put it on television. Wait, I thought that was the DragonConTV motto… sorry.
DD: [laughing] As you mentioned, DragonConTV will still be covering the parade as usual to the hotel channels. Who is going to be taking your seat?
BR: Crispy will actually be adding seats. He’s decided he wants barstools this year; normally we stand. Crispy has been doing the parade a very long time, and he’s also a little bit more immersed in some of the elements of pop culture than I am, so a lot of times, honestly, the person who knows more about what’s going on in the parade and who the characters are is not me. So Crispy and our usual co-host Ryan will be there, and Krista is going to come back. Krista used to do some of our backstage interviews after the costume contest. The three of them have a really good rapport. They’ve done Ren Fest and improv together, so they’re a great set and I look forward to getting back to my hotel room and watching what they’ve done.
DD: So will the parade coverage be available on the new streaming service?
BR: Oh yes. Yes, it will. One of many things.
DD: Let’s talk about that. For $10, people with current Dragon Con memberships will get access to the panels that are streaming, plus they’ll have three months of access post-con. How long has all of that been in the works?
BR: Since October of last year. You may have noticed that DragonConTV’s production quality has increased over the last three or four years. We moved to an all high-definition system back in 2011, 2012, somewhere in that timeframe, and started putting in kind of the plumbing that we would need knowing that at some point, because of the trends, we would need to offer some kind of internet streaming. Maybe for limited events, maybe for some one-offs, or maybe for the entire convention. At the end of last year, we decided for the 30th anniversary that we should introduce some kind of streaming package.
Then all the fun began. We upgraded our master control system. If you’ve seen Dragon Con Live—the shows that we do roughly monthly before the con—we’ve been testing out the concept of streaming, breaking in our equipment, and working out the bugs so that when we do the show we don’t have problems. Or we have a smaller set of problems. The entire broadcast flow is updated so that we’re able to deliver high definition to our streaming members, and we’re able to deliver a way to show past convention content. If you have the membership prior to the convention, then you’re able to see stuff from 2015 that we haven’t released to the web: you’ve got the full Masquerade, the event from the Aquarium, the Friday Night Costume Contest, some of the panels. We’re going to continue doing that.
One other thing that we’ve added is that we can now broadcast live from the Atrium [Ballroom in the Marriott] and the Centennial Ballroom [in the Hyatt]. That’s kind of a big deal as well. Because we have the two biggest rooms we can broadcast live from, we won’t replay as many panels as we used to. You get more of a window into the convention, but in some respects you get a little less of the spread of the convention. So with the streaming membership, after the con—we record all of the panels in the six main ballrooms—we’ll just start uploading selections of that content. For the three months afterwards, you’ll be able to see everything that we streamed plus replays of events that we weren’t able to put on the channel because of the limits of time and space.
DD: Where at the con can the streaming memberships be purchased?
BR: You can go to the Dragon Con store locations—the same place you go to buy shirts and hats and keychains—and pick up a streaming membership. You get an authorization code that you use one time to create an account on the website. Then you log in to that account from your laptop, from your web browser on your tablet—lots of different devices are supported. We’ve tried it out on Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Amazon Fire tablets, played around with it on a couple of different phone browsers, and it’s ready to go. You log in to the site and you’ll be able to see the live stream or pick up replays of the events we’ve uploaded.
DD: You may be speaking to something that’s totally not in your experience with this question, but I’m curious. Do you think the streaming will have any impact on some of the traffic around especially the big ballrooms? Knowing that not only if I can’t be in the room, I can stream it plus I’ve got 3 months to watch it after the con, does that ease some of the madness?
BR: It does a little bit. It’s kind of one of the unintended side effects of DragonConTV. As a convention, we’ve always had this problem. When you have a convention of 70,000 people and you have a ballroom that seats 2,000 people, obvious math tells you that there are issues. We found this out with the Masquerade years ago. It was one of the first things that we started sending to all of the host hotels. More people want to see that as a ratio to convention goers. Adding the ability to replay it on the channel later or just broadcast it so that you can have a room party certainly helped—not necessarily traffic because you still fill up the room for Masquerade. But it’s not a push and it’s not a problem where it becomes a gating event and you have 70,000 minus 2,000 people [who] can’t see it.
DD: At the very least it eases the disappointment. Oh, I didn’t get in the room but I can just go back to my hotel room and watch it.
BR: The interesting thing we saw is that this conversation started itself. We didn’t really think about at first, that this will change how people see the con. But then a friend of mine pointed out a feed on Reddit where people had already started asking themselves this question: Are you going to start skipping certain events if you have a streaming membership? Knowing that you have this way to go back later and watch it, you can go to a smaller panel that you might not normally have a chance to see because you can watch the main events later on. That gives you a little more freedom of movement. I don’t really have the answer on how people are going to use it in that way. I’ll be really interested to see how that turns out.
DD: It will be interesting to see kind of post-con what people have done with the streaming. There is a caveat that there are some things that can’t be put up on the streaming service because of contracts.
BR: We’ve marked those in the schedule. They’ll still be available to people in the main hotels but a lot of our guests work for studios who own some version of their likeness, so occasionally we get a restriction for commercial sale or streaming that prevents us from putting it out on the package. We’re hoping that as we expand the platform we’ll be able to work through some of those contractual issues. Because we didn’t announce this until later, some of the guests had signed on and we didn’t have the terms of our streaming down. They signed on not knowing that streaming was going to be an option. If that’s known up front, then we can bring that into the negotiations or the guest packages that we offer.
DD: If people are looking for more information about streaming, if they have questions, where can they go?
BR: The new streaming package page is called dragoncon.tv and there’s a frequently asked questions link on there, oddly enough at dragoncon.tv/FAQ. If you have questions, you can find us on Twitter or Facebook at DragonConTV. We have revised the FAQ a few times to bring in questions we got from convention goers. And when you go to the store on site, they’ll be able to answer some questions as well.