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What Are Pop-Up Exhibits and Why Are They Going To Be Everywhere?

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   Fans of the beloved series, Friends, are waiting with anticipation until September 7th when a New York “pop-up” experience will be opening to celebrate 25 years since the show’s premier. Featuring set recreations, props from the show, and merchandise for visitors to purchase, it is of no surprise that the Lower Manhattan installment has already sold all of its advance tickets. Anyone wishing to visit without a ticket will have to wait in the general admission lineup at 503 Broadway.

   Friends is not the only series to have a pop-up, though, as Seinfeld is also expected to have an installment sometime between this fall, when tickets go on sale, and February of 2020. Similar to the Friends installment, this pop-up will be celebrating the 30 year anniversary of Seinfeld’s debut. Fans of the video game series, Halo, are currently in the midst of a touring pop-up, advertised as ‘Halo Outpost Discovery’, albeit without any anniversary to celebrate. Fans can experience recreations of props and sets from the various chapters in the series, similar to the pop-ups for Friends and Seinfeld.

   What is behind this pop-up trend, though? While the idea has only existed for just over a decade, it seems as if there is a sudden surge in the attention that this kind of event is getting. Though Friends and Seinfeld are celebrating anniversaries, the greater idea behind these television-based pop-ups could have to do with the near future of the two series.

   In 2018, Netflix made headlines when they paid around $100 million for the rights to stream Friends throughout 2019, with the deal expiring in 2020. Back in 2015, the same year Netflix began streaming Friends, Hulu made a massive $160 million deal with Sony Entertainment for the rights to stream Seinfeld for five years, also until the end of 2020. The two shows have since been bought by Warner Media, now a part of AT&T, for their upcoming HBO Max streaming service launching in the spring of 2020.

   Furthermore, both the pop-ups are being facilitated by Superfly Productions, the company known for holding the Bonaroo Festival. Superfly is confirmed to be producing the Friends pop-up in association with Warner Bros. global themed entertainment division, a member of the Warner Media family. Though Friends is owned by Warner Bros. Television, it would not be surprising if the pop-up for the Sony Pictures owned Seinfeld is also in association with the HBO Max parent company. If Warner outbid Netflix and Hulu for the two series, it would make sense for them to try and raise publicity to attract subscribers to the new HBO Max.

   Seinfeld’s last pop-up, in association with Readyset Inc., opened to the New York public on the same day Hulu began streaming the series, supporting the idea of the pop-ups standing to generate publicity. When a program migrates to a new streaming platform, it is of interest for a company to rejuvenate the fandom of the show - especially if the show ended 30 years ago.

   In a similar example, Sony Entertainment used a much more mobile pop-up to raise publicity over the DVD/Blu-ray release of their famous series, Breaking Bad. Multiple cities across North America were visited by an old, beaten up RV that fans of the series would recognize as the iconic RV featured in the early seasons of the show.

   The decision to pursue pop-up exhibits, as opposed to other publicity campaigns, is likely based on the rise of marketing in social media in recent years. MDG Advertising outlines that companies are increasing their focus and budget for social media based advertising while decreasing their focus for other avenues such as print and television. The potential for a pop-up to ignite a viral social media trend was pursued by Netflix in June of last year with their “Because You Watched” two-day pop-up in downtown Hollywood. Held at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, Netflix created photo-ops, as well as other post-able experiences, based on a variety of the original content they have created in previous years. Shows like Stranger Things, Black Mirror, GLOW, and Orange Is the New Black were featured and encouraged social media sharing.

   Another advantage of pop-ups is their ability to support fandom during gaps in release times. While television runs on historically strict production deadlines, requiring new seasons yearly, other forms of media such as cinema and video games are a little more spontaneous. For example, the Halo franchise has usually followed a 2 to 3 year production cycle since its inception in November of 2001. The most recent major installment, Halo 5: Guardians, was released in 2015, though, which will mark a 5 year lull between it and the next major installment, Halo Infinite, coming in 2020. ‘Halo Outpost Discovery’ bridges this gap, though, supporting the fandom of the franchise during this tail end of the extended waiting period between games. Cinematic franchises, such as James Bond or The Fast and the Furious, could adopt the use of pop-ups for similar appeal.

   If the Friends and Seinfeld pop-ups are well received, other networks may buy in to the trend. Fresh Prince, soon to be featured on HBO Max, is celebrating its 30 year anniversary in 2020, while landmark sitcoms such as How I Met Your Mother, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and The Office are all celebrating 15 years. Gilmore Girls, which Netflix recently invested in with their well-received Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life miniseries, is celebrating 15 years as well, possibly prompting another Netflix pop-up. Fans of Back to the Future can look forward to the 35 year anniversary of the franchise, a perfect reason for Universal to join the party. Keep an eye out for your favourite franchise or series to see if they are planning a pop-up near you.

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