INSIGHTS: SXSW 2015
2BACKGROUNDFor nearly 30 years the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference & Festivals have offered the unique industry convergence of music, film, and emerging technologies. The Interactive portion of the festival started in 1994 and has been described as spring break for geeks. In recent years, companies such as Twitter, Foursquare and GroupMe have used Interactive to generate buzz and drive significant adoption of their emerging products.
As we have been for several years running, Access Digital was on the ground in Austin for the 2015 installment of SXSW Interactive. Our team has compiled the top highlights, insights and predictions for the future.
SXSW Interactive By-the-Numbers
6,000+ total events
3,000+ attending media
2,000+ conference speakers
1.4M Tweets (and counting)
3Live Video StreamsThis years break out app was undoubtedly Meerkat, which allows users to live stream video from a mobile phone. The app proved so popular that Meerkat-ing actually became a thing. During SXSW Twitter bought Periscope, another live video streaming app, and subsequently cut off Meerkats access to the Twitter social graph. Stre.am launched into the same, suddenly crowded market needless to say, live video streams are here to stay.
Internet of Things (IoT)Internet-connected devices were being demonstrated and talked about nonstop the festival even had an IoT category in its Innovation Awards. There were connected devices for the home and beyond, including a smart water sprinkler system that adjusts its watering schedule based on weather information it downloads, speakers for streaming services that learn as you listen and a BBQ smoker tricked out with sensors to detect the temperature, amount of smoke and humidity in the interior. Every type of device we know will soon become connected and through that, get smarter. Before connected devices see widespread adoption they must become simpler and more secure.
Emotion + EmpathyWhether it was discussions around content, new apps, attracting and retaining talent or focus areas for innovation, using emotion and having empathy were common themes in 2015. Given the massive glut of content that is generated every day, brands were repeatedly told to focus on evoking emotion from their target audience or not bother.
Whats Trending in 2015
4Whats Trending in 2015
WearablesA hot topic at SXSW in years past, much of the wearable discussion this year focused on design. There was a fascinating discussion around how the human body is the most difficult canvas for which to design and experts suggested that technology and fashion are quickly becoming one. What we consider wearable technology today will be invisible tomorrow embedded into the very fabric of the clothing we wear.
Health / WellnessImproving the quality and elongating life has and will always be a top priority for the human race. Its why we see so many fitness-centric wearables succeeding, the healthcare tech space blowing up and yoga classes and runs scheduled each morning for the duration of SXSW. This year we even saw popular fitness tacking devices for babies, pets and beyond. Thanks to continued technological innovation, health and wellness will be a theme for years to come.
Humans vs. RobotsThere was a robot petting zoo where the robots were created with natural disaster relief efforts in mind. Leading tech figures, including Elon Musk, discussed the need for artificial intelligence research and regulation to ensure that robots are used for good and dont ultimately replace humans. A dating app even used this trend to organize a marketing stunt a Stop the Robots protest. How close is Chappie to becoming a reality?
5Whats Trending in 2015
FoodFood (read: BBQ and food trucks) has always been a huge part of the SXSW experience. In its second year, the SouthBites program included a host of panels, mixers and meet ups that had people buzzing in multiple senses of the word. With participation from multiple celebrity chefs, hot topics included how technology and entrepreneurship are impacting the future of food and a lively discussion on the role of digital media in food criticism.
SportsSXsports has grown immensely since its introduction in 2014 and continued to explore the cultural impact, human experience and innovation within the sports world. Live events drive massive social media sharing as fans react to action on the field, on the ice or on the court so it only makes sense that athletes and teams will use those same channels to engage fans. This year saw a higher caliber of speakers (professional athletes, social media leads of top teams, etc.) and a more robust variety of sports-related topics covered at SXSW.
6Intimate VIP EventsWith the crazy number of events held each day / night, attendees have their pick of the litter. Aim for quality over quantity by making your event an exclusive one, so attendees can be confident that everyone in the room is someone theyll want to hang out with.
Make it even more attractive by having a hot musical performer or celebrity speaker.
Getting Out EarlyStartups that do want to leverage SXSW as a launching pad of sorts have to get their product in the hands of the digerati at least 2-3 weeks prior to the annual migration south to Austin.
This allows early adopters to use the product at the festival and expose more of their fans and followers to it in the process.
Lounges and Spaces to Actually Get Work DoneBelieve it or not, Wi-Fi and battery life continue to be major issues at SXSW. Attendees are constantly looking for places to plug-in and its even better if theyre able to have a bit of quiet and calm, enjoy a fast Internet connection and get a little work done.
SXSW: Whats Hot
7SXSW: Whats Hot
Brands That Add Value to the SXSW Experience in Creative and Useful WaysNo one needs another flyer about your app or service. Figure out a way to make your product useful to attendees during the show and youll win over fans.
For example, the #mophieRescue campaign had St. Bernard puppies deliver free mobile phone chargers to attendees in need.
8Leveraging Brand Equity to Get Out of Paying BandsDont try to get bands to play at your event by offering them free publicity instead of cold hard cash. The negative backlash isnt worth it.
Big, Blowout PartiesTheres so much happening every night at SXSW that the massive parties of years past are no longer the place to be. Even if you do something intimate, dont expect to get a ton of business done for the most part people just want to blow off some steam.
Repetitive Content and TopicsSXSW veterans notice similar programming that doesnt stray very far from prior years. If youre on a panel or proposing one for next year think outside the box, pair up with unexpected partners and offer up something truly different.
Stalking Celebrities to Get Them to Invest in Your StartupMost celebrities are in for their appearances and then head out soon after (unless theres a really hot party to stick around for). They dont want to be bombarded by thousands of startup founders trying to pitch them the next big thing save it.
SXSW: Whats Not
9Our Predictions for 2016
SXSW will get even more crowded, increasingly noisy and further embraced by big corporate sponsors. What was once a start-up driven conference where exciting things happened is growing up and evolving quickly into something else.
Given many consumers intense interest in all things food, SXSW will continue to expand its SouthBites programming and related sponsorship opportunities.
Itll be nearly impossible to stand out. Given the volume of activity and the increasing number of big money sponsors, startups that truly break through the noise will be few and far between.
SXsports will continue to grow and it will draw in an entirely new SXSW audience perfect for lifestyle and tech brands seeking to engage.
Grumpy Cat will make yet another appearance and for some reason the lines will be just as long.
Celebrities will continue to play a big role at SXSW. Whether its in a speaking capacity, performing at a party or doing a book signing, they will continue to serve as one driver for attendees to register.
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