SXSW Interactive staying 'Interactive' for 2017

A merger is not happening, at least not yet, for Music, Film and Interactive

Posted April 20th, 2016

The longtime director of South by Southwest Interactive on Tuesday dispelled suggestions from the Internet that the festival will merge its Film, Music and Interactive components. 

"No, for 2017, they will still be relatively distinct Music, Film and Interactive," said SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest at a General Assembly networking event at WeWork Austin." But again, the long-term goal is to moving this to a more unified experience."

On Tuesday, the festival sent out an email announcing dates for the 2017 festival, March 10-19, but made no mention of Film, Music and Interactive as separate entities, calling the event only "SXSWeek." The festivals are also not mentioned separately in a post about the June 28 launch of the SXSW Panel Picker and registration.

Many of the biggest speaking events of the festival end up falling under the "Convergence" label, which allows anyone with a badge from the three conferences to attend. As tech, film and music as industries have continued to integrate, it's been a topic of conversation among those who follow the fest whether SXSW itself would unify into one large festival instead of three separate branches.

Forrest himself said earlier in the presentation that the increasing number of music performances at SXSW Interactive "are a hint of what you'll see as it becomes a more unified event" and said that 2017 will be a "more integrated experience."

He also said, "We've got a few tricks up our sleeve which I can't quite reveal yet, but they'll come out over the next several months."

Erica Rich for AMERICAN-STATESMANTexas Tribune CEO Evan Smith interviews President Barack Obama as part of South by Southwest Interactive on Friday, March 11, 2016 in Dell Hall of The Long Center in Austin.

Other highlights from the talk:

  • Forrest said that this year's President Barack Obama talk was obviously a huge win for SXSW 2016, set the tone for the whole fest and is making it easier to book big-name guests for 2017.
  • There was no breakout app at this year's fest, but virtual reality tech dominated SXSW Interactive during the fest and in a post-Interactive VR track and mini expo that followed. Forrest said that if anything, SXSW may have underestimated how popular it would be at SXSW 2016.
  • Other popular topics at SXSW, says Forrest, were robotics, disrupting transportation, diversity in tech and sessions featuring the "Mr. Robot" cast and one with Anthony Bourdain.
  • It doesn't appear a major revamp is in the works for Panel Picker despite some problems in panel selection that led to the creation of a March 12 Online Harassment Summit. Forrest said that for 2016, about 500-600 panels were chosen from a submission pool of about 4,000.
  • Forrest said that like Austin itself, SXSW is struggling with ways to keep the event affordable for young, creative people who have a lot to offer the event. That's one reason so many panels are accepted (panelists and moderators get free badges) and why the fest is offering discounts to students and scholarships for Interactive. The festival has a pretty large churn rate; typically about 20-40 percent of SXSW attendees are first-timers, he said.
  • Though he refrained from taking a side on the upcoming ride-hailing election in Austin, Forrest said that companies such as Uber and Lyft have definitely helped with congestion and transportation problems during SXSW, making Interactive "1000 percent easier to digest."
  • On a suggestion that the entire festival be live-streamed to those who can't make it, Forrest said the issue is volume; with 40-50 panels going at the same time, the fest is unable to employ that many film crews to broadcast everything. He said TED is an event that is doing a great job putting out video of everything it does.
  • Future killer app idea? Forrest suggests that apps that win at the fest are those that are useful to attendees in the moment. He thinks an app that can drop a breakfast taco for you via drone would do well at Interactive.