Austin is braced for the annual onslaught of makers and marketers, techies and creatives; the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals opens March 9 with SXSW interactive, the festival dedicated to digital media.
Like past years, the festivals will include the usual assortment of luminaries and experts on topics serious or not. The festival likes to stay true to its “Keep Austin Weird” origins. It includes panels on remaking cities and reinventing government along with morning yoga and a “build-your-vibrator workshop.”
The experience can be a bit overwhelming, but a few themes stand out.
AI, VR, etc.: It should be no surprise that an event with “Interactive” in its title should feature a lot of new technologies. Companies like Twitter first began making noises at SXSW and FourSquare was even introduced at the festival. This year’s interactive festival will feature a blockchain prominently, but the buzzwords of last year, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, are still going strong in the program.
But the human factor will also be represented in force, with a number of events focused on inclusion and diversity, touching on movements from #metoo to #blacklivesmatter and more. SXSW is hosting several political candidate training sessions for aspirants for public office, as well as a whole raft of panels on increasing diversity and remaking the workplace.
Big talk, big names: Keynote sessions this year include Bernie Sanders on Friday March 9, Arnold Schwarzenegger March 10, Melinda Gates March 11 and London Mayor Saadiq Khan on March 12. But there will be plenty of other top names in the programs: newsman Dan Rather, writer Ta-Nehishi Coates and filmmaker Spike Lee, among others.
Panel sessions will touch on themes from “Is Machine Learning Worth the Hype” (with panelists from iRobot Corp., Harvard University and TripAdvisor) to panelists from Google discussing “Making Technology Adapt to Us” to the “SXSW Report on Trust, Government, Tech and Media” with Rather, Edelman Founder Richard Edelman and WP Engine CEO Heather Brunner.
Lots of walking, lots of lines: The festival has mushroomed from a music-industry curiosity at its beginnings 30 years ago into a massive affair that shuts down Austin’s downtown. Shuttles ferry attendees around the venues, but with more than 421,000 passing through Austin in the ten days of SXSW, it can be faster to walk.
Lines are a fact of life at SXSW, with audiences for popular events often overflowing the venues. Participants have to be prepared to arrive early and wait. The organizers have responded by adding “encore sessions” of popular panels and live streaming many sessions.
Parties and pop-ups: SXSW’s film track began as an indie filmmaker showcase and still highlights independent film, but it also has become a major opportunity for media and entertainment companies to tout major projects. HBO is turning a local venue into a simulated environment of its show Westworld and Pinterest has its own Pinterest House, and will host panels on marketing and AI and how to tap into consumers’ brains, among other topics.
All kinds of marketers have large activations at SXSW. Panasonic will host events at Panasonic House to showcase IoT and digital technologies, including panels on the next industrial revolution and “100 Innovative Ideas for the next 100 Years.” Meanwhile, Dell will host The Experience, a program of demos, entertainment and presentations on topics from AI and VR to the Valiente Awards to fearless marketers.
Velocitize will also be at SXSW, covering the action and interviewing speakers and participants. Come back for more from SXSW and let us know your thoughts on Twitter @VelocitizePub!