Increasingly Comic-Con, that annual comic book event that has evolved into all things popular culture, gives TV programmers immediate -- and unscientific -- reactions to their upcoming shows.
Some 130,000 fans -- and geeks -- show up at the annual San Diego Convention Center in July, as potential citizen marketers.
The event was widely credited as helping launch NBC's "Heroes" a couple of years ago. NBC is coming back with the show to Comic-Con -- but to a lesser degree, not with a high-profile panel discussion.
TV marketers always have a slew of other summer promotional tools to launch fall shows: on-air and off-air promotion, focus groups, and marketing and media tracking studies. Comic-Con is part of that new wave of direct-to-consumer marketing efforts, one that seems to play with what volunteer spinmeisters, digital fan-atics, can bring to get the word out.
Comic-Con isn't just for sci-fi geeks, but overall TV fans (which in itself has created some controversy). This broader appeal is why Warner Bros. is bringing a range of 11 shows to the event; Twentieth Television is showing up with nine. It's also why NBC sent "The Office" and "30 Rock" last year; and why Fox is sending "Glee" this year.
What are marketers specifically looking for? ABC's marketing chief Michael Benson told Daily Varietythat the network needs "millions" of disciples to spread the word for its summer efforts. Benson said Comic-Con is a niche piece in any TV show's overall bigger marketing campaign.
"Millions" is a tall order. Say you get thousands to buzz positive spin on ABC's new sci-fi, mystery show "Flash Forward" in the hope those will convert to tens of thousands, and into hundreds of thousands.
Looking at regular Internet surveys of TV shows can give marketers a range of the sampling they could get. Scientific? Not that much.
Still, Comic-Con seems the right thing to do. Maybe it's sci-fi marketing science.