South By Southwest

March 10, 2012 by staff 

South By Southwest, Increasingly, the media zoo that is SXSW looks more like today’s overlapping media world.  The annual South by Southwest Conference and Festival, which began Friday, gathers thousands of creators, performers, media and industry members for 10 days onto the boozy downtown streets of Austin, Texas. It’s really three festivals – Interactive, Film and Music – in one, but each bleeds into the other.

The annual buzz word at SXSW is always convergence. Just as the tech and entertainment worlds physically descend onto Austin, media forms, too, are diverging. Many of those technologies and companies that might be found at SXSW Interactive have greatly altered those at SXSW Film (video-on-demand, Netflix, Hulu) and at SXSW Music (Apple, Spotify, Pandora).

It’s a place where the question is always “what’s next” and one has the impression of meandering hordes traipsing the streets of Austin searching for answers to a confusing and ever-evolving media landscape. There will be hundreds of panel discussions, countless predictions and even man vs. machine competitions that pit algorithms against curators.

Each realm of SXSW will have its own superstars. None will be bigger than Bruce Springsteen, this year’s music keynote speaker. Interactive, though, will have its own rock stars, including Napster co-founder Sean Parker.

Many others will be there, too, often promoting new projects, including Jay-Z, Willem Dafoe (“The Hunter”), Richard Linklater and Jack Black (“Bernie”), Jack White, Joss Whedon (“The Cabin in the Woods”), Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow (HBO’s “Girls”), comedy podcast star Marc Maron and a few thousand more.

SXSW, effectively a trade show for industry and media members, has been around since 1987 and has historically been primarily a music event where labels showcase their acts and young bands seek their big break. Film and what was then called “multimedia” were added in 1994.

“It’s not all that apparent what we’re doing different now, but knock on wood,” says Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive. “There’s lots of reasons for the growth, but the general reason that encapsulates it all is the growth of social media and social networks.”

That’s been partly driven by the success some start-ups have found at SXSW. In 2007, a little thing called Twitter broke out from the pack in Austin, and two years later, Foursquare was also effectively launched into a nationally known location-based social networking site.

This year, SXSW is premiering a new Start-up Village that will gather young companies looking for the SXSW-bump – a goal not unlike those of thousands of bands that come to Austin, seeking hype. One of the buzzed-about startups coming to this year’s SXSW is Pinterest, a pinboard-style sharing site whose founder, Ben Silbermann, will be speaking.

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