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SciFriday: A Quiet Night On The Not-So-Red Carpet

Syfy/E! Comic-Con party failed to live up to hype this year

Last year, I was excited to have moved up at the annual Syfy party held on the final night of San Diego Comic-Con.

Unlike previous years, I would actually have the recognizable purple Syfy backdrop in my video, and it was just non-stop actors, producers, writers — even Isaiah Mustafa, the Old Spice guy, was there. Everywhere you turned there was someone famous (and wanting to talk to us), like Joss Whedon, stars of some of television’s biggest shows, and even author Charlaine Harris, whose work was adapted to HBO’s popular “True Blood” series.

But this year, with Syfy dropping its partnership with Entertainment Weekly and instead going with its new corporate sibling E! Entertainment, the excitement didn’t really seem to be there. And I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that I was moved to the very end of the red carpet, around a corner, and pretty much out of sight.

No matter where I am, my nearly two decades of being a hard-nosed reporter outside of these websites has helped me get the attention of anyone I want to interview. If they were on the red carpet at all, they would have to come by me. And whether they would stop and talk, or keep moving — let’s just say it was much wiser to stop and talk, which all of them did.

The bad part was that there was a lot less to draw from than in previous years. Don’t get me wrong — I have some good red carpet interviews that I can’t wait to share with you. But it’s nothing like what we have received in previous years. And I can’t even think of a single person who walked the carpet that wasn’t getting paychecks from Comcast.

For me, I already was in a tough mindset because I had to fight my way onto the carpet. That was odd for me, because while we aren’t nowhere near the size of sites like io9, we are certainly a site that has been influential over the years. We have great relationships with many outlets — many of which should be our competitors in a different world — and our longevity (13 years next month) speaks volumes.

Yet, a simple email from Slate PR — the company handling red carpet media — just a few days before the party was short and sweet: Airlock Alpha was not invited to the red carpet.

And really, neither was most other digital media. After years of NBC Universal innovating and pioneering strong relationships with digital media, it took 10 steps back by leaving online media out of what’s supposed to be the premier event of the convention.

Sure, the annual digital media party for NBC was going on just a couple blocks away at the Hard Rock Hotel. But that exclusive party seemed to be open to anyone with a Tumblr account, and was so crowded, it was hard to even move without accidentally spilling Chevy Chase’s drink all over him.

The number of on-camera interviews I got at the NBC party? One — Sasha Roiz, a friend of Airlock Alpha, formerly of “Caprica” and soon to be on the new NBC series “Grimm.” The number of interviews scored last year at a much more exclusive NBC party? Almost a dozen. And I was drunk last year, too.

The red carpet later on was not much better. This year, I was able to collect 10 interviews, missing only Amanda Tapping, who walked by while I was interviewing someone else. Last year, the count was more than 20. And I left 30 minutes early because I was already two hours late for a party being held in honor of Airlock Alpha back near the convention center.

I really can’t blame the public relations people at NBCU, or the groups they outsource. They have always been good to digital media, and even with the hiccups surrounding the Syfy/E! party, they did their best to accommodate everyone, including us, when we campaigned to get back on the red carpet.

But there were really a lot of issues to this year’s offerings. Even in the pressrooms, which have always been great, there was at least one time where television media were allowed to dominate and digital media were forced to wait — in another room. By the time television was done, digital media were allowed to speak to one cast member from the show and its executive producers before the press session ended.

I really don’t want to see NBCU go in the wrong direction after spending so many years of going in the right direction. Why be like many of the other networks and cable channels, which still don’t acknowledge the power of digital media? One of the things that has helped boost Syfy, for example, has been the channel’s early embracing of digital media. We aren’t small potatoes, and there are some great online journalists out there.

NBCU is not the same company it was a year ago, and there are going to be some growing pains. I think it’s safe to say that we experienced some of those growing pains this year. I have high hopes that the original philosophy that built NBCU’s public relations department into a powerhouse will poke its head through again, and many of the problems experienced this year will be laughed about next year.

I know highlighting problems doesn’t necessarily put me at the top of the Christmas card list for NBCU. But then again, I’ve never been one to just nod my head yes, even when my head really wants to shake no.

Constructive criticism is something I’ve always been honored by. Anyone who takes the time to offer such criticism shows the ultimate respect by actually caring about me. That’s the same here. My criticisms are meant in nothing but the most constructive form, because I care about the relationship networks and cable companies have with digital media, and I care about the great people — especially those at NBCU — that make it happen.

There was still a lot of good that came out of Comic-Con this year, and a lot of it was thanks to Syfy and its NBCU family, which leads the genre that fuels the convention each year. And even better, I didn’t spill Chevy Chase’s drink on him.

Hey, sometimes you have to celebrate the little things.

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