What to Watch for at SXSW 2019

March 7, 2019

SXSW may not be the same event it was 20 years ago, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Its continued evolution from local music event to far-reaching, all-encompassing interactive experience has only served to broaden its appeal and impact. In a few short days, nearly 100,000 people will descend upon the quirky little city of Austin, Texas, and there’s no shortage of speculation about the hot topics at this year’s event. Below are just a few on my mind – if you’re following along with the action at SXSW 2019, what are you paying attention to this year?

sxsw 2019

Is anyone going to address the elephant in the room?
The most important conversation in tech that no one wants to talk about isn’t going to go away on its own: It’s time to confront the topic of data privacy and security head-on. Conspicuously absent at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, brands and technologies won’t be able to ignore the elephant in the room for much longer. I’d love to see an open and honest dialogue about keeping consumers safe in this era of constant connectivity. As Ketchum discovered in its recent Tech Tipping Point study, a new consumer type is starting to force the issue and the brands that win will be those willing to tackle tough questions and engage openly.

Innovation that makes us say “Wow.”
What I’ve always loved about SXSW is its ability, year after year, to capture the imagination and embrace creativity of all kinds. Amid the concerts and film premieres, keep an eye out for brands that break the mold and truly embrace the spirit of SXSW. Last year, HBO’s recreation of “Westworld” represented a new high-water mark for experiential marketing and brand immersion. Which brands will rise above the others this year? Will we see new use cases for AI? Will we see collaborations that make us gasp? For nearly two weeks, Austin becomes a melting pot of ideas and possibilities. When you bring together enough heads of state and visionary techies across every industry imaginable, anything can happen.

Space: The new wild west.
Tropical vacations, ski week getaways… interstellar adventures? We’re going to space and we’re going sooner than you might think. The big question: who has what it takes to get us there (and back) safely? As privately funded space exploration gains momentum, SXSW presents an opportunity for individuals driving the space agenda to engage in a real dialogue about where we are today and what hurdles might remain ahead of us before intergalactic travel is the new norm. Many share their vision, but few have clearly articulated a plan of action and given consumers reason to trust.

Sport as a playground for innovation.
The intersection of sports and tech is very real, but few have stumbled upon the magic formula to better complement the needs and wants of the next generation of fans. The SXSW schedule is once again chock full of discussions centered on engagement with younger fans and tech as the conduit to do so. But are we still just talking about Twitter? And are we still stymied by perceptions that young people can’t pay attention to sport long enough to care? Teams and leagues are working hard to crack the nut and keep engagement and passion high, so I for one will be interested in tracking progress, which, to date, has been limited.

While strengthening bonds with fans via innovation has developed slowly, teams and leagues are making massive tech advancements in the front office. In fact, the Orlando Magic is the latest franchise to make a strategic investment in tech with its recent announcement of a scouting deal with STATS to leverage artificial intelligence and machine vision for the purposes of player evaluation. Teams are investing big money in tech – will it pay off on the playing field?

What do you think SXSW will bring this year? Contact me here to discuss!

Chip Scarinzi is a senior vice president in Ketchum’s technology sector, where he draws from more than 17 years of experience in consumer and enterprise tech. A dyed in the wool sports fan, he is also the author of Diehards, a non-fiction book that explores the evolution of sports fandom.