Thanksgiving, SXSW, Halloween.
Those are my favorite holidays, in that order. 2015 marks my 9th year attending the annual conference and as TMA’s resident Austinite, nothing excites me more than hearing the words “Film,” “Interactive,” and “Music” categorized under one event within walking distance of my downtown home.
In years past, I’ve seen the transformative launch of Twitter, watched Kanye perform at the Power Plant – now home to Under Armour Connected Fitness – and taken in many great films and parties.
Last year, while there were still significant highlights like Edward Snowden’s session that I found fascinating, the 2014 version felt bloated and unmanageable.
2015, however, felt like a shift or transition probably aided by the fact that there wasn’t one super strong theme that overpowered everything. This led me to be open to the serendipity that is part of the very soul of SXSW.
With that, here are five things that stood out for me at this year’s conference:
1. Meerkat: If there was a clear winner for 2015 SXSWi, it would be Meerkat. Every single human being at badge pick-up was talking about and using the app that allows you to live stream video directly into Twitter.
Meerkat was everywhere around Austin. It felt like SXSW activities and experiences were being streamed all over the place.
Then somehow (perhaps through the Force), Twitter felt the surge of usage and, in realizing they recently purchased a competitive app called Periscope, put Meerkat in a chokehold by cutting its access to their social graph.
The significance of Meerkat’s emergence this past week is that streaming content is here and it is embraced. This type of channel opens up doors to publishing experiences and helping users and brands become their own networks.
2. Verizon’s #ATXunite: For those Austinites who attend SXSW, the experience is amazing. For those who don’t, it can be downright frustrating, or so I’ve heard. There are three things we love to complain about in Austin: traffic, crowds, and traffic. Verizon took a different route this year with #ATXunite, a social campaign focusing on aiding Austin locals with survival kits featuring everything from Yeti coolers, Bose ear buds, and Philips Hue light bulbs to exclusive lunch experiences at Franklin BBQ just by following and tweeting Verizon and #ATXunite.
3. Virtual Reality: We are so close. You remember that part in Jamiroquai’s video for Virtual Insanity where Jay Kay, after spending so much time getting further away from the frame, comes as close as possible and stays there to finish the video? That is where I feel we are right now. So close, and from here it is all mainstream. SXSW definitely had its share of VR experiences and installations. From Interstellar’s setup for their Blu-ray release to Google’s Cardboard viewer, VR showed it is ready and the demand showed that we are ready for VR.
I am, in fact, giddy at the possibilities that VR presents for brand experiences in the entertainment, automotive, fashion, and retail industries.
4. Big Data and Social: Finally Big Data, you have arrived. There were tons of panels on utilizing and the importance of Big Data this year, and rightfully so. Big Data is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a need-to-have. Understanding your audience and gaining that competitive advantage has never been more important to brands. How to make it actionable, how it and Audience Intelligence can work together, how to use it to drive engagement – it was all on display during SXSWi. Audience Intelligence platform People Pattern even made a cool persona infographic on SXSW:
5. Curiosity: There were plenty of speakers on hand this year, and the two that stood out most for me both focused on the value of curiosity. The first speaker was TV & Film Producer Brian Grazer, who created Imagine Entertainment with Ron Howard and has created exceptional films like “Backdraft” and “Apollo 13.” Grazer was discussing his book written about his life philosophy of having “curiosity conversations” with different and interesting people every two weeks. He uses these conversations to guide and inspire his work and build relationships.
The second was with Henry Rollins. I’ll be honest: Rollins is a personal inspiration of mine – I was initially just happy to be in the room. He was there attending and promoting his new film, “He Never Died.” Rollins covered his life travels and experiences; however, the gravy was poured when he talked about his life philosophy of how anger fuels his curiosity. The anger is what makes him curious, and the curiosity, in turn, fuels the anger. The result, he states, “makes me want to do stuff and live vigorously.” I left both of those talks inspired.
SXSW has been a great success for me. For anyone that is considering a future trip, I would highly encourage it. There is something for everyone. You’ll leave here more knowledgeable and inspired.
Follow Jake Schneider @jakeschneider