Can D23 Expo Be Fixed?

August 25, 2011

So, after attending D23 Expo 2011 and then seeing the scads of online complaints about things like mismanaged lines, undersized venues, and lack of alternative programming, my first thought was not to even do a write-up, since I’ve been complaining about these things since the last Expo. I guess the only way anybody else was going to get vocal about the problems was to experience them firsthand, and that definitely happened with this year’s more heavily attended event.

Lines for the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives Exhibit and Legends of Walt Disney Imagineering panel on Saturday

The thing is, D23 Expo 2011 had a lot of great stuff going on, and there were even a few improvements over the previous Expo. The Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit was excellent and could stand on its own as a traveling, ticketed attraction. The idea of having the camera and cell phone check before people got in the Arena queue was such an obvious solution, it’s baffling they didn’t think of it last time. Hanging TVs in the Arena queue to entertain us with highlights of the Expo and program schedules was another great improvement. And of course the quality of all the shows, panels, and presentations was top notch—the problem was that so few Expo-goers actually got to experience them.

Animator Frank Thomas' entire office was re-created inside the Archives exhibit

Venue Size

Disney expected 45,000 attendees yet had room in the Arena, Stage 23 and Stage 28 combined for only 5,250. Granted, not all 45,000 were there each day, but even if only half that number showed up, less than 25% of all attendees got a seat in each presentation.

The capacity of the Arena was reduced to 4,000 from its actual 10,000, and there were hundreds of seats on the sides left empty. This was probably due to their obscured view of the stage, but who wouldn’t take one of these if the alternative was missing the show altogether? The 1,000-seat Stage 23, site of the Dick Van Dyke concert that turned away so many, was carved out of a ballroom that can hold up to 3,800. Some of that space was devoted to the queue, but couldn’t the line have been diverted into one or both of the 800-capacity meeting rooms on either end of the third floor instead?

Dick Van Dyke & the Vantastix played to a packed Stage 23

And if expanding the size of the venues wasn’t an option, what about repeating the more popular presentations in Stages 23 and 28? Or, why not rebroadcast each of the presentations in the Arena at the end of the day like Comic Con does? If rebroadcasting violates copyrights or performers’ union rules, how about a live feed of each presentation in the queue areas as people line up for the next presentation?

Crowd Management

How can a company that revolutionized the amusement park industry and invented FASTPASS be so bad at managing crowds and capacity inside a convention center? The horror stories are numerous: almost two-hour waits just to get inside the convention center at opening Friday and Saturday; people waiting hours in line for presentations only to be turned away at the last minute; non-D23 members being shut out of the first Arena presentation of the day because it filled to capacity well before they were allowed into the Expo; rows of empty seats in presentations that were announced as being full; and even a near riot over a keychain giveaway at the Walt Disney Studios booth after staffers tried to combine lines.

On Friday, the line wrapped all the way around the convention center and down toward the Anabella Hotel

Many suggestions have been offered, and I can’t believe Disney wouldn’t think any of them are suitable alternatives. How about passing out numbered tickets or wristbands or even just stamping people’s hands in the presentation and Arena queues? What about letting us reserve our space in each panel online beforehand? Shouldn’t there be separate entrance lines for the Arena, the show floor and the Dream Store? If nothing else, the red-shirted staffers doing most of the line management need far more thorough training, plus walkie-talkies that allow them to stay in the loop with changing policies and procedures.

One of the most egregious yet easily solved crowd-control problems was the way staffers were back-filling the scores of front-row Sorcerer seats with latecomers while the people who had been waiting at the front of the line for two or three hours in order to get a good seat were made to sit seven or eight rows back. Disney could have told the Sorcerers (who paid $1,000 each for reserved seating in all the presentations) they had to be in their seats X minutes before the start time and then started admitting the general public, so that the front of that line would be filling those empty seats in the front rows. Instead, they admitted the public first and sent them to the middle of the room. Then, after those seats were filled, they started letting people at the back of the line, who’d waited the shortest amount of time, go up to the front rows while people who’d been at the front of the line frantically scrambled out of their crappy seats and tried to grab front seats. I’m surprised no fights broke out!

Empty Sorcerer seats in Stage 28

Quantity of Programming

The root of all these problems is that there wasn’t enough real programming—panels, presentations, and shows—to occupy the number of attendees. At Comic Con, it’s not a big deal if you don’t get into a panel because there are eight or nine others going on at the same time. At D23 Expo, there are just three options at any one time: the Arena, Stage 23, and Stage 28. Paid autograph sessions, product releases, and celebrity appearances on the show floor are not equivalent substitutes for a panel discussion with legendary Imagineers or a presentation on the creation of Disney California Adventure’s new Buena Vista Street.

It was also interesting to see how many missed opportunities there were for enhancing the convention experience with the kind of “spot” entertainment found in the parks. Where were the roaming characters—especially in places where people were already waiting in lines, like the upper floors? How about a few Photopass opportunities with those big movie props and auction lots found on the show floor? Why not project vintage Disney cartoons on the walls in the various queues to help people pass the time?

Gee, wouldn't this be a swell place to have your photo taken with Captain Jack Sparrow?

Disney has theme park crowd control down pat. If they’re going to branch into the convention business, why aren’t they applying this experience? Yes, it’s only their second attempt, but they’ve had two years to learn from the mistakes of D23 Expo 2009 and come up with new solutions. Disney sends animators on trips around the world to do research for their films—why can’t they send a few Expo managers to any of the numerous successfully run conventions held every day in the US? Combine that kind of knowledge with Disney’s skill at entertaining the masses and you’ll have one of the best conventions in the world!

This post is part of DISMarks’ Disney Blog Carnival #29—check it out!

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel August 25, 2011 at 2:58 PM

I can’t believe that after the freshman D23 Expo that Disney would have learned and made some changes? I have to say that their lack of crowd control (well along with time and money but that’s besides the point) is one of the things keeping us from attending the expo. People shouldn’t have to feel compelled to spend $1000 on the Sorcerer package to guarantee that they’ll get into the presentations. Well they have another two years and hopefully they’ll figure it out.

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lurkyloo August 25, 2011 at 3:09 PM

Exactly! It seems like they thought that introducing pricey packages for just 300 people was the answer to all the lines and crowding from last time. So, that helps out 0.7% of attendees… what about everyone else?

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Kristen ~DVC Mom~ August 25, 2011 at 3:14 PM

Great post! I wasn’t at D23, but I have to wonder if that’s really a good thing. It sounds like anyone with anxiety problems would have likely had a nervous break down at the event. You suggest some fabulous ideas for solutions, I hope that someone in the company reads your post and gets it to “the right” people!

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lurkyloo August 25, 2011 at 3:24 PM

Unfortunately, it seems like they pretty much write off any negative opinions from the online fan community as being the babbling of crackpots, which is why I encouraged all the disgruntled “civilians” I met to make their opinions known too!

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Hedy @ WDW Not Just for Kids September 6, 2011 at 3:22 PM

Well said, Kristen. As a person who has yet to shell out the dough for D-23, this definitely affects my view.

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Jennifer August 25, 2011 at 3:21 PM

Let me just tell you I am attending a conference in San Fran next week called Dreamforce and you should see the way they handle things. I have had a website since I registered to go in and add sessions to my calendar and agenda and if they are full then you can’t add them. It is being held at the Moscone center and they have a LOT of space! I think that Disney should take notes from them becuase this is one well organized event! I can’t believe the details of getting on their website and getting all organized for sessions for this. They even have an Iphone app that I can use to manage sessions and such… If this company can do it so could Disney… it would just take a little effort and with the growing popularity they should consider having it at a large venue or why not do it in Disney World where they have tons of ballrooms and convention space and they could really have a great event and even put some of it in the Orlando Convention center… I think it is much larger then where they are having it and well I think you’d get even bigger attendance…

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lurkyloo August 25, 2011 at 3:30 PM

Wow, I would love it if D23 Expo had those kinds of online tools! You know the crazy thing about the space is, the Anaheim Convention Center is HUGE—it’s just that Disney only used half the available space. I can understand them hedging their bets after the soft attendance at the first Expo, but they had to expect that massive marketing push for Expo 2011 to pay off at least a little bit…

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Kaylin August 25, 2011 at 4:01 PM

I agree with how Comic Con was more organized than D23. Also about the idea on how you could reserve your seats online in advanced. I wasn’t able to go to the expo this year, but this post was fabulous because of all the great ideas you added! If you haven’t, I suggest you send that post to D23!

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lurkyloo August 25, 2011 at 4:07 PM

I should say that a lot of the ideas have been floated by many other people, too. Which makes it all the more perplexing that Disney didn’t think to implement any of them for the Expo!

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Jenn Paul August 25, 2011 at 6:16 PM

well I guess I’m glad now that I am not a member and missed this, because all of this stuff would make my blood boil! I am however glad to see you write this up only how you can. Maybe someone at Disney should read this..maybe you should send these exact suggestions to someone at Disney!

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lurkyloo August 25, 2011 at 9:26 PM

Yeah… it’s hard to know whom you would even send ideas to. Disney’s lawyers are so freaky about unsolicited ideas… I can only hope that the post-expo survey I filled out is counted for something. The one I did last time must not have been!

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Tom Bricker August 30, 2011 at 12:21 PM

I am at a loss for how D23 can continue to have events with crowd control nightmares without ever addressing any of the issues. It’s gotten to the point where it really seems like the organization just doesn’t care. That’s unfortunate, as individually, many of the D23 higher-ups seem genuine and like nice-enough people.

You might try emailing feedback@disneytwentythree.com in addition to the survey. I was irritated after Magic & Merriment, so I sent a few emails their way. They finally responded, but perhaps that wasn’t so much because they took my suggestions to heart, but because they were tired of my barrage of emails. I guess time will tell whether the next M&M improves upon the shortcomings of the last one. Here is what they finally had to say:

“Dear Tom,

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us regarding our Magic and Merriment event, via e-mail and survey. The survey was an anonymous survey; names were removed from the comments for privacy reasons therefore we were unable to acknowledge your comments until now.
Please note that some of your feedback has already been discussed amongst the greater D23 Events team. These discussions will help in planning next year?s Magic and Merriment as well as future D23 events.

Once again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and we hope to have you as a D23 member again soon.

Regards,

D23 Team”

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lurkyloo August 30, 2011 at 12:37 PM

Tom: I think your feedback must’ve had some impact already—I noticed today when D23 released the details of this year’s Sip & Stroll, they seem to have done away with the Festival of PowerPoint that used to feature heavily in both Sip & Stroll and Magic & Merriment! :)

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Tom Bricker August 30, 2011 at 12:41 PM

Doubtful. I actually praised their liberal usage of plainly-designed PowerPoint slides, calling it, “the most rousing way to entertain a seated audience for over 45 minutes.” I went on applaud “their decision to utilize a simple and clean design-aesthetic for the presentations, with nary even interesting transitions between the slides.”

Sip & Stroll looks fun. We’ll miss it by a couple of weeks, but on paper, at least, it looks enjoyable.

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Norma August 25, 2011 at 9:51 PM

Based on this review, and many others I’ve read about D23 Expo, I think the question isn’t “can D23 Expo be fixed” but “does Disney care to fix D23 Expo?”. All of the problems are things that could be easily solved and not cost much money if any to do so. This whole thing is just one more recent example, in my humble opinion, of Disney dropping the ball. I think they need some new people in there, but what do I know I’m just a paying customer.

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lurkyloo August 25, 2011 at 9:54 PM

Hear, hear! Oh, and did you see Disney animator Floyd Norman’s tweet tonight? “D23 provides unquestionable proof that Walt Disney is dead.” Just… wow.

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Norma August 25, 2011 at 10:06 PM

Can’t really argue with that can ya? It’s sad though, an animator had to sum up what the public was thinking.

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Elizabeth August 26, 2011 at 1:24 PM

Considering how *ahem* “effective” the overall Disney website is…I think hoping for some online scheduling and reservations magic for this Expo may be a pipedream.

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lurkyloo August 26, 2011 at 1:43 PM

Yeah, I didn’t wanna mention it, but Disney seems to be one of the least technologically savvy large companies around. And when they do jump on a new technology bandwagon, they seem to pick the one with the most complicated and buggy infrastructure!

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Elizabeth August 26, 2011 at 1:49 PM

But they can computer animate like NOBODY’S BUSINESS!!! LOL

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Beau August 26, 2011 at 3:12 PM

Unfortunately, besides attending the AWESOME arena events, I wasn’t able to get into any non-arena events. It seems like my whole time was wasted in lines.

I would love to go to the next D23 Expo, but will only do it if I hear about plans for better crowd management.

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lurkyloo August 26, 2011 at 3:14 PM

Oh no! It did seem like that was basically your choice—either stand in line to see the arena shows or to see the panels, but not both.

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Beau August 26, 2011 at 3:20 PM

That’s exactly how it was for me. I’m glad that I finished my trip with two days at Disneyland — it reminded me that Disney actually does know how to manage lines, and ended up making my trip well worth it.

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Andrew August 27, 2011 at 7:35 AM

We agree with everything you said. I’ve been to a lot of professional and fan convention/conferences, and even run one myself. D23 was easily the worst I’ve ever been to. After two D23-run experiences (this and the Rocketeer screening) I wouldn’t trust them to run a middle-school fundraising car wash efficiently. We were so disappointed in the whole thing that there’s no way we’d pay to go to another of their events again.

I doubt it’ll do much good, but I do plan on writing a letter to them letting them know how their disorganization will cost them our business. I’m also going to send a copy to whoever is over them, once I can figure that out. (Are they under the Disney Stores management?) Cynically, I’m sure that they feel that 45,000 people in attendance is a huge success, and having to turn people away or having to wait in line for hours just proves how popular they are. But how many of those people will be back in 2013? Two less, if you’re counting me and my wife.

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lurkyloo August 27, 2011 at 4:31 PM

Oh wow – so you’ve had the pleasure of attending the two worst-run D23 events of the year! I’m glad to hear you’re writing a letter. I still think the Expo wouldn’t have been as bad this year if more people had put their complaints in writing last time.

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Lura August 27, 2011 at 7:54 AM

You’ve given voice to a lot of the things my husband and I were thinking! We stood in line for four hours on Saturday to get into the Studios presentation (2 hours to get into the convention, 2 hours in line for the actual show) and we still got fairly abysmal seats. I had no idea they were letting people from the back of the line sit in the reserved seats.. and I’m glad I didn’t or I would have been even more disgusted with the whole weekend. There was one point when we were waiting in a line for an “official” line to form, while a line for the presentation AFTER ours was already forming behind us! We called it quits on Sunday and just went to the park instead. Thank goodness for annual passes.

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lurkyloo August 27, 2011 at 4:35 PM

Ugh! What a terrible experience you had. Glad you could redeem the trip with a park visit on Sunday. I knew things were bad when I was sitting in a line Saturday listening to the piped-in park music and wishing I were there instead!

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Kim August 27, 2011 at 12:34 PM

The problem was that the entire thing was handled by Disney corporate. D23 is part of the Marketing Department and they didn’t have much budget or way to do things at the start. They weren’t allowed to get the Parks Department involved and the Carousel of Projects was ONLY handled by the Imagineering Department-the only Disneyland representation was Skaggs desperately trying to press the flesh and those DL employees he called in for help. WDW, the Cruise Line, DVC, etc weren’t even there. And don’t get me started on Iger announcing he was on vacation.

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lurkyloo August 27, 2011 at 4:38 PM

LOL! I did think it was telling that Iger couldn’t even be bothered to show up this year. He’s gonna need a Staggs-style viral video to repair his image with the fans next time!

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Laurie Smith August 29, 2011 at 6:26 AM

HALLELUJAH
Finally someone addressed D23 in the right way. I wrote on their FB wall what was wrong but they do not care. I wrote them about special diets and never had that addressed.

THERE WAS NO FOOD FOR SALE. I am special diets with no wheat or soy. They could not make a plain hot dog. I had sunset salmon at Joe’s Crab Shack, pizza at BJ’s and Zito’s, and prime rib at Outback restaurants. It is not just Disney spoiling me but that they could not address special diets. I am insulted that they did not even respond to my emails asking about special diets.

2009 I saw everything twice probably. This time we saw one panel that was an advertisement for his hotel book. I did not get to do Destini or see the treasures, NOT HING, ZIP.

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lurkyloo August 29, 2011 at 7:24 AM

Yeah, the food situation was pretty bad. Disney did a post-Expo Q&A on MiceChat where they gave glossy PR answers to some of these concerns, and their stance on food was that they had absolutely no control over it—it was the convention center’s purview. I think that’s pretty disingenuous, though. I’ve talked to two convention center catering managers and learned that Disney had control over the variety and quantity of food. So why couldn’t they have asked the convention center chefs to come up with some options for special diets? If you do go next time, I would suggest getting in touch with the convention center’s catering department directly to see if any accommodation can be made.

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Laurie Smith August 29, 2011 at 7:51 AM

In life there are events such as weddings, conventions, and parties. When was the last time you did an event and was told you had no control over food. Disney knew from the last event that special diets was not addressed. I do not see why I should have to talk with the convention center as Disney is running the event.

Is it just me or was this NOT Disney? A line over half a mile long is bad enough but when one pays $300 for 3 days of entertainment then one expects to be entertained. For the price of the failed D23 we could have done 2 nights in Cypress and 3 days at DLR including dinner at Steakhouse 55. I could have done 2 nights at SeaWorld probably.

Why do I keep saying NOT DISNEY? Why do I keep saying “Disney would have done it this way.”? Why don’t I have happy memories? Why did I park at the hotel, walk to Tangaroa Terrace, eat lunch, and end up on the ground in so much pain that we canceled the day? Why did I have so much pain? Disney will never refund us money or comp us nor will they apologize. Disney will make another Expo and it will be worse than this one. 2009 saw sold out panels so why not add more in 2011?

I am bitter, tired, and still not recovered. Waves to nice person named Luckyloo

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Hope August 30, 2011 at 2:38 PM

Preach on sister! Dear D23 Expo, read this blog post and make things better for 2013. Carrie brought up so many GREAT points and so many GREAT solutions. All you have to do now is put them into action. No thinking involved. You’re welcome. :D

p.s. and bring fudge next time! ;P

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lurkyloo August 30, 2011 at 3:24 PM

P.P.S. Especially the fudge.
Love, Carrie

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