Continuing a trend that started in 2003, South by Southwest Interactive had another year of attendance growth, attracting 37,660 participants, up from 33,825 in 2015. Interactive grew in number of participants -- those with Interactive, Gold of Platinum badges who had access to the festival -- by 11 percent, while SXSW Music remained flat and SXSW Film dropped slightly.
This year's festival featured a keynote talk with President Barack Obama, panels about virtual reality and a South by Southwest Gaming expo that changed significantly. Festival director Hugh Forrest said in a General Assembly meetup presentation Tuesday night that the festival had a good year, leading off with the presidential keynote. "The tone of the whole event was upbeat," he said.
Good weather and better transportation options provided by ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft contributed to a smooth event, he said.
South by Southwest Gaming, which this year moved to the Austin Convention Center and overlapped with SXSW Music, did surprisingly well. The festival estimates that about 76,200 people attended the Gaming Expo over three days, compared to 56,537 in 2015 when it was held at Palmer Events Center.
SXSW Music badge attendance was flat with 30,369 participants in 2016 from 30,308 in 2015. SXSW Film had 19,942 participants, down from 20,252 in 2015.
SXSWedu, the education and tech event that takes place before SXSW week, jumped from 6,307 participants in 2015 to 7,535 in 2016, coinciding with a growth in number of sessions (419, up from 357) and more speakers (1,020 this year versus 867 in 2015).
Some of Interactive's double-digit growth could also be attributed to more speakers and sessions. Interactive had 3,093 speakers in 1,377 sessions in 2016. In 2015, there were 3,700 speakers over 1,250 sessions. Media attendees for Interactive accounted for 3,493 spots, up slightly from 3,389 in 2015.
Congestion at the festival has been an issue since the social-media boom of 2007-2010, but Airbnb options, ride-hailing and more hotel space downtown seems to be helping. Forrest said Tuesday night that despite the Obama visit, traffic ran smoothly on the first day of Interactive and the good weather kept people spread out through the fest's many venues.
On Tuesday, Forrest also dispelled the idea that the three main branches of SXSW, Interactive, Film and Music, might merge into one festival next year. "No, for 2017, they will still be relatively distinct Music, Film and Interactive," he said. "But again, the long-term goal is to moving this to a more unified experience."The last time SXSW Interactive had a year when it didn't grow was 2002 when only 3,015 attendees were present. From 2006 to 2008, Interactive began experiencing growth rates of 32-45 percent and by 2009 had reached 10,741.
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