SXSW began in 1987 as a music festival that spawned a separate conference for film and multimedia in 1994, and became the multimedia and interactive festival it is today by 1997. From hundreds of attendees in early years, to over 30,000 this year, SXSW has evolved into a cultural event that highlights music, the web, and technological innovation equally. From Al Gore calling on attendees to use the Internet to help save the planet, to over 2,200 musical acts, SXSW’s highlights illustrate that point.
Music, Multimedia and Music Highlights
The highlights included greater diversity this year in music, from rock to hip-hop. Television was represented by Jimmy Kimmel taking his late night talk show to Austin for the week, and A&E promoting its new season of the show Bates Motel by setting up a replica of the hotel and inviting members of the press to sleepovers.
A film highlight was the premiere of Russell Brand’s biopic Brand: A Second Coming. Unfortunately, its star did not attend. Brand cancelled all appearance to SXSW saying about the film, “Watching it was very uncomfortable” and, “my life was hard enough the first time around, going through it again was painful and sad.”
Speaking to aspiring filmmakers, Mark Duplass, in a keynote address, said that technology was so cheap that there was no excuse for anyone not to make films on the weekend using his or her smartphone. Using his own films submitted to Sundance and SXSW as an example, he stated, “If you have a voice and something interesting to say they will like you and they will program you.” The takeaway from this is that it’s not the medium, it’s the message, so start filming.
Internet and Technology Highlights
Major players and tech startups both made news. Google was there promoting Google Fiber as a “coming revolution to television”. Smartphone accessory company Mophie, promoted itself by allowing attendees to take screenshots of low battery warnings on their phones and tweet them to Mophie. Mophie would send one of the dogs from the Saint Bernard Rescue Foundation with a Mophie power pack around its neck to the location, helping the attendees keep charged and raising awareness for adopting dogs.
On the startup side, Meerkat, a company that launched weeks ago, generated the most buzz with its app that allows users to stream video from their phones to their followers on Twitter. However, on the first day of SXSW, Twitter announced it bought potential rival Periscope and severely limited Meerkat’s access to Twitter. Despite that, Meerkat, just days ago, received $12 million in new funding (in no small part due to its showing at SXSW), and it has added new features that allow it to find and get followers independent of Twitter. Interestingly, it was SXSW that gave Twitter its big boost in popularity.
A sampling of other notable tech highlights:
- Acorn – A micro-investment app that rounds up charges from purchases and puts that change into portfolios.
- Spotlight Health – A website that lets you search, shop, and compare doctors, treatments, and therapies.
- Strati – Best of Show winner of the Interaction Innovative Awards for its electric powered 3D Printed Car.
- VocaliD – Users give the gift of voice by contributing recordings to a database that combines them with a recipient’s voice characteristics to build a synthetic voice library that matches as closely to the recipient as possible in voice patterns and tone.
SXSW is known for its parties and its big corporate giveaways, but inspiration and innovation are still at the forefront as evidenced by these highlights.