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How Comic-Con went from geek to Hollywood megabucks

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But, Mr. Davis points out, studios have learned a thing or two in the few years they have been courting this fan base. If an early preview sets up false expectations and the word-of-mouth turns sour, then the viral buzz can work against a big project. One of this summer’s box-office disappointments, “Green Lantern,” got a poor reception last year when early film footage was shown at Comic-Con, Davis says. That has “spooked” some studios.

Instead, he notes, the "Avengers" area is dominated by a large movie set piece, with actors in costumes – but no early footage with the potential to turn off fans. He notes that many fans had also expected director Peter Jackson to unveil early peeks at “The Hobbit.” But Wednesday, Mr. Jackson disappointed fans with the announcement that no footage would be screened.

The New Zealand director, however, had previously launched a daily web diary from the set, giving fans an up-close look behind the scenes as shooting progresses.

The Comic-Con schedule is still chock full, ranging from dozens of panels with costume designers, cinematographers, and makeup artists to the big-ticket events, such as Mr. Spielberg’s panel on his upcoming TV series, “Terra Nova.” The world premiere of “Cowboys and Aliens” will also take place at the 2,000-seat San Diego Civic Theater.

But the presence of fan panels on the schedule, such as one for “The Hobbit," is a reminder of what makes this convention different from many trade shows. “This is not for the trade, it’s for the fans,” says Jens Andersen creative director for DC Universe Online.

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