This year has seen events from WonderCon to the Olympics cancelled. Around the world conventions are going online or are TBD. Movies, Book Fairs, Science meetings all postponed. Even SpaceX has delayed Launches. The reason is the coronavirus pandemic, that makes it dangerous for people to gather together in person. Here’s a list of some conventions that have cancelled or postponed cancelled cons. Here’s a list of upcoming conventions. If you visit the individual con websites, most of them have indeed been cancelled. Here’s a list that includes concerts and TV that have gone on hiatus.
However, conventions require a lot of contracts: with hotels, convention centers, guests, and attendees. So convention organizers can’t just stop an event, without incurring considerable penalties. You’ll see language like this from Melbourne’s OzCon “We held on as long as we could, however due to the ongoing situation with Covid-19 it is necessary for us to announce the rescheduling of Oz Comic-Con…” what are they holding on for?
First a bit of history:
In 2015, as Ebola spread across Western Africa, Morocco was to hold the African Nations Cup. The Moroccan government turned to a legal concept to postpone that year’s event: force majeure. It’s a common clause in legal contracts that allows either party to limit their liability in the face of some unforeseeable, extraordinary event. Morocco, which was set to host the biennial soccer tournament, claimed that the Ebola outbreak qualified.
But force majeure is notoriously difficult to establish. In that case, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Ebola did not constitute “force majeure,” because the deadly virus had not made hosting the event impossible—just more difficult. Morocco was held liable, and fined $1 million.
“Force majeure” translates literally as “superior strength,” and refers to unforeseen events ranging from natural disasters like hurricanes or avalanches, to manmade emergencies, such as wars. But what about an unpredictable, highly infectious pandemic virus? It depends.
It turns out that the NBA player’s collective bargaining agreement has a clause specifically related to pandemics (!) That made it relatively easy for the NBA to cancel their season, one of the first sports to do so.
How about comic conventions? It turns out that the non-profit that runs WonderCon and San Diego Comic-Con, CCI, does have a force majeure clause in their deals, but nothing specifically about pandemics (this is from a personal communication with CCI sources). Because of this, they have to wait for a government order that forbids events at the time and place of the scheduled convention, and most of those orders only extend for a few weeks or months, nothing until, say, July. Therefore Comic-Con must do their best to continue despite the looming probabilty that they’ll have to bring the entire operation to an emergency halt. There are literally hundreds of millions in revenue from the con at stake.
And conventions do want to go on. We love them! So they may look to reschedule. The problem there is that no one knows if the new date will be possible either until mere weeks before.
Author Russell Nohelty said: “I know a lot of show organizers and this is painful for me to write. I love shows… but it’s the smart and prudent strategy to plan for a life without shows until 2022, for your safety and that of other people as well.”
Virtual conventions is an idea that has been around for years, but technology hasn’t quite been up to the challenge so far. One problem is that teleconference software for hundreds of participants doesn’t work well, so live streaming multiple panels in real time would also be very expensive and hard to make work. But maybe someone will figure this out – the artists and fans want it. The example of WorldCon 2020 is a good one, so far.
Another interesting example is the bizarre, almost accidental not-a-convention called Concellation 2020, a pop-up Facebook group created by Christopher Ambler as a sort of joke group for people who were suffering from convention withdrawals as all their favorite cons from the beginning of the 2020 convention season all announced postponements or cancellations. Within two weeks, the group had 20,000 members; within three, it had already reached 30,000 members, and it’s growing exponentially.
Many artists, writers and creators have jumped on the bandwagon and finding that the community with which they would have been interacting in person at the conventions seem to be all there having fun. There are now separate Facebook pages for the Costume Competition, and Dealer’s Room, and each are growing briskly, and there’s talk of a Concellation 2020 panel track, and an even an art show.
There’s also CyberCon, a virtual convention being operated by Garrett Pomichter and the same people who produce the Hangin With Web Show (and the Hangin With Web Show Radio Hour here on SCIFI.radio), which already boasts 1,600 members.
With no definite end in sight for the social distancing plans in major population centers, virtual conventions are likely to be our only outlet this summer. It’s still too early to tell whether the fall season will suffer too, but in the meantime, of course, there’s still SCIFI.radio …