SXSW 2020 Programming Trends

To highlight some examples of where ideas and technologies merged together at SXSW 2020, we curated a list of ten significant trends in our programming where these interactions helped shape the future.

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About SXSW Trends


SXSW is where creative minds come together to drive the conversation and engage in creative problem solving around tech, entertainment, and culture. Deep dialogue and interaction between communities can increase their ability to innovate and expand. The diversity of ideas, and those that bring them to SXSW, creates previously unimagined opportunities like the exploration of the potential of AI in the film industry, blockchain technology's impact on personalized medicine, or how individual empowerment fosters community movements and creates lasting social change.

To highlight some examples of where ideas and technologies merged together at SXSW 2020, we curated a list of ten significant trends in our programming where these interactions helped shape the future.


For the 2021 season, the SXSW Conference has introduced 7 Themes. Explore the SXSW Conference page to learn more about the 2021 event and stayed tuned to SXSW News for updates on trends and programming announcements throughout the season.

2020 Trends:

New tech redefining entertainment industries


Technology has driven fierce competition over fan engagement and revenue across the entertainment industries, with every advance and its creative applications are changing the whole playing field. Live music performances are experimenting with XR and holograms, a rush to market in streaming services threatens a paradigm shift in gaming — and above the whole sector looms the tidal wave of 5G and its promise of a revolution in the mobile media experience.

Tracks: Advertising & Brand Experience, Creating & Monetizing Music, Experiential Storytelling, Fantastic Future, Future of Music, Game Industry, Making Film & Episodics, Tech Industry & Enterprise, XR

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The battle for the 2020 US elections — and its aftermath


The upcoming elections promise to be hotly contested, with far-reaching consequences on every issue from climate crisis and global geopolitics to civil rights and accepted social norms. What tools and strategies are grassroots organizations employing to engage voters and effect positive change in the face of well-funded disinformation campaigns, systematic voter suppression, and a myriad of threats to the integrity of the elections? What will happen when the results are in?

Tracks: Climate & Social Action, Government & Politics, Media & Journalism

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Policy playing catch-up to digital threats


The problems of hacking and surveillance capitalism aren’t going away as governments, media, and internet platforms remain slow to contend with existing technologies, let alone emerging issues like misinformation and deepfakes. Private sector innovation is stepping up to meet the demand for data security, but is it enough to address the influence of personalized propaganda and state-sponsored cybercrime?

Tracks: Advertising & Brand Experience, Connection & Culture, Government & Politics, Media & Journalism, Tech Industry & Enterprise

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Space: the final frontier of entrepreneurship


The commercialization of space travel is opening up new opportunities and markets for startups as well as established players — along with a host of technical and ethical issues. With access to low Earth orbits becoming an everyday reality, the prospect of recreational space travel draws closer — but new visionaries are calculating their trajectories to the surface of Mars.

Tracks: Fantastic Future, Government & Politics, Space, Startups, Tech Industry & Enterprise

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A new generation of leadership


The collapse of moral authority in Washington has created a vacuum. In the absence of coherent policy on critical issues, activists are stepping into the breach on women’s rights, gun control, climate change and more — meanwhile, corporations are noticing that profit and productivity improve when they take a stand, and the increasing backlash when they capitulate.

Tracks: Climate & Social Action, Connection & Culture, Government & Politics, Media & Journalism

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Medicine is embracing the power of personalization


Direct-To-Consumer usurps traditional models


As businesses ranging from traditional retail brands to entertainment giants are rushing to cut out middlemen and build their own self-contained ecosystems, there’s more in mind than simply bringing the markup in-house. The customer data this direct relationship creates can precisely inform spending decisions and engage customers by personalizing communications at scale — data that was immensely expensive to obtain through traditional means, but is now easily harvested by a platform owner while presenting its own opportunities for direct profit.

Tracks: Advertising & Brand Experience, Connection & Culture, Game Industry, Media & Journalism

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Creating equity in cannabusiness


Cannabis legalization is one of the few remaining issues with broad bipartisan consensus. With major corporations preparing and executing cannabis market entry strategies, can the industry pioneers who have labored under onerous conditions for years be fairly treated? With decriminalization and acknowledgement of the acceptability of cannabis, what justice will there be for those who have spent their lives in prison only for corporations to reap the benefits?

Tracks: Cannabusiness, Climate & Social Action, Government & Politics, Health & MedTech

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Tech and design take on pervasive loneliness


At a time when the world is more connected than ever, the lack of contact leaves people feeling increasingly alone — with health and social consequences far exceeding expectations. But collaborative, creative online spaces promise meaningful and rewarding social interactions, and younger internet users are using games like Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite to connect and network instead of mainstream social media. Can better virtual experiences help stem the tide, or is the only cure to rethink the design of our cities, workplaces, and lives?

Tracks: Advertising & Brand Experience, Connection & Culture, Fantastic Future, Game Industry, Tech Industry & Enterprise, Workplace

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It’s a maker’s market in content creation


The proliferation of new entertainment platforms is fueling an unprecedented demand for original content. With streaming services paying increasingly high premiums for content that will attract subscribers, the rush to make high-quality entertainment is creating a drought of skilled production staff. Alongside the increasingly professional podcast scene, the rise of TikTok and the resurgence of Snapchat offer low barriers to entry, promising creators immense exposure to a global audience and turning casual users into microinfluencers.

Tracks: Advertising & Brand Experience, Connection & Culture, Experiential Storytelling, Game Industry, Making Film & Episodics, Media & Journalism

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