SXSW 2017 Programming Trends

Audience at SXSW Conference session 2015. Photo by Sam Burkardt

As we go through the programming process for the SXSW Conference different trends emerge, identifiers for where we’re at and where we’re headed. At a time when we face new challenges and uncertainty, the ideas presented here position us at a place of hope where innovation, solutions, and creativity are at the forefront in ways that are now more important than ever.

The broad strokes of 2017’s programming trends haven’t changed that much since 2016, but as new developments arise over the course of time our focus gradually shifts to keep the cutting edge in view.


Why it matters: Artificial Intelligence has become ubiquitous as more and more applications are found for this still-emerging technology. Everyday uses—from gesture-based interfaces to specialist applications like psychiatric care bots with emotion recognition—stand alongside massive modeling projects that predict future events with increasing accuracy. Can the impact of these advances be mitigated with radical policy shifts, such as the movement for universal basic income?

Tracks: Intelligent Future (Interactive), Experiential Storytelling (Convergence), Tech Industry (Interactive).

Speakers: Oscar Celma, Pandora; Kate Crawford, Microsoft Research; Eric Horvitz, Microsoft; Charles Jolley, Ozlo; David Kenny, IBM; Saker Klippsten, Zoic Labs/Studios; Andrew Moore, Carnegie Mellon University; Daniela Rus, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Dave Wortley, Taylor James; Richard Yonck, Intelligent Future Consulting.


Why it matters: Is the cart before the horse? Development of VR technology and hardware is moving rapidly, but where’s the killer app or change in the ecosystem that will trigger the much-anticipated mass adoption when a real VR setup is still out of reach of the average consumer?

Tracks: Entertainment Influencers (Film), Experiential Storytelling (Convergence), Film and TV Industry (Film), Music Industry (Music), Tech Industry (Interactive), VR/AR (Convergence).

Speakers: Jessica Brillhart, Google; Imraan Ismail, Within; Nonny de la Peña, Emblematic Group; Felix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael, Felix and Paul; Rene Pinnell, Kaleidoscope VR; Yelena Rachitsky and Saschka Unseld, Oculus Story Studio; Chris Milk, Within.


Why it matters: "Young people only want cool technology" is a widely-held sentiment, but a deeper exploration of Gen Y and Z’s desires and needs reveals a search for ways to meaningfully impact the world in this era of global citizenship and real-time social media presence.

Tracks: Brands & Marketing (Interactive), Intelligent Future (Interactive), Government (Interactive), Social Impact (Convergence), Workplace (Interactive)

Speakers: Afdhel Aziz, Good is the New Cool; Jimmy Chamberlin, Blue J Strategies LLC; Asha Curran, 92nd St Y; Jamie Dorfman, MullenLowe; Joshua Browder, DoNotPay; Michael Hondorp, Instagram; Michael Neiling, Ocupop; Kate Pena, McCann; Nathaniel Ru, Sweetgreen; Erin Schrode, Turning Green; Congresswoman Krysten Sinema and Congressman Eric Swalwell, US House of Representatives; Rebecca Smith, Refinery 29; Kira Wampler, Lyft.


Why it matters: Modern policymakers face tough tech-related challenges, few more so than regulating who owns what in a world made of 1s and 0s. Consumer data protection concerns are approaching crisis, with detailed tracking going beyond the online realm and into the physical.

Tracks: Brands & Marketing (Interactive), Film & TV Industry (Film), Food (Convergence), Intelligent Future (Interactive), Journalism (Convergence), Making Film & Episodics (Film), Music Industry (Music), Tech Industry (Interactive).

Speakers: Esha Bhandari and Neema Guliani, ACLU; Dae Bogan, TuneRegistry; Ellen Broad, Open Data Institute; Michael Donaldson, Donaldson+Califf LLP; Tom Gonser, Docusign; Alethea Lange, Center for Democracy and & Technology; Tan Le, emotiv; Michael Lee, Morrison & Lee LLC; Prof. Andrea Matwyshyn, Northeastern University School of Law; Raza Panjwani, Public Knowledge; Julia Reda, European Parliament.


Why it matters: 2017 is a critical moment for unheard voices around the world, with issues of inclusion rising to prominence throughout the political spectrum. The effects of decisions in this sphere can be felt more broadly than ever before as businesses and communities discover the socio-economic impact they can have.

Tracks: Entertainment Influencers (Film), Film & TV Industry (Film), Government (Interactive), Making Film & Episodics (Film), Making Music (Music), Music Industry (Music), Music Influencers (Music), Social Impact (Convergence), Style (Interactive), Touring & Live Experience (Music).

Speakers: Sophia Chang, A Better Tomorrow; Sadie Dupuis, Sad13/Speedy Ortiz; Lee Daniels, Lee Daniels Entertainment; Kiran Gandhi, Madam Gandhi; Kristina Grossman, Republic Records; Carrie Hammer; Role Models not Runway Models; Rochelle Holguin, Universal Music Publishing; Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Wagner Moura; Jill Soloway, Topple Productions; Nadya Tolokonnikova, Pussy Riot; Maggie Vail, Cash Music; Ingrid Vanderveldt, EBW2020; Marni Wandner, Sneak Attack Media.


Why it matters: The complexity of the music licensing and streaming landscape intensifies. Amidst calls for more transparency, new ideas like blockchain distribution, global rights databases, and automatic licensing platforms hope to steady the ship for artists, rightsholders, labels, publishers, and services. Meanwhile, regime change in the U.S. brings even more uncertainty.

Tracks: Making Film & Episodics (Film), Making Music (Music), Music Industry (Music), Music Influencers (Music).

Speakers: Stefon Blom, Spotify; Lyor Cohen, YouTube; Michael Donaldson, Donaldson+Califf LLP; Ari Herstand, Ari’s Take; David Levin, BMI; Annie Lin,; Sean O’Malley, Global Music Rights; Adam Parness, Pandora; Neeta Ragoowansi, National Performing Rights Exchange; Benji Rogers, Dot.Blockchain; George White, Sirius XM.


Why it matters: While many are talking about all of the new-school ways of creating and distributing content, such as streaming services, torrent distribution, VR and drones (to name a few) some are standing out from the pack by looking backwards—using old-school analog techniques like arthouse theatrical release strategies, education distribution, and shooting on film—to get their content noticed. Musicians, labels, and record stores are making real money from surging vinyl record sales, even tapping into cassette tape nostalgia.

Tracks: Entertainment Influencers (Film), Experiential Storytelling (Convergence), Film and TV Industry (Film), Making Music (Music), Music Industry (Music), Music Influencers (Music).

Speakers: Billy Fields, WMG/WEA; Gale Anne Hurd, Valhalla Entertainment; Kathryn Penny, National Media Museum; Orly Ravid, The Film Collaborative; Simon Raymonde, Bella Union; Nigel House, Rough Trade UK; Elizabeth Sheldon, Bond/360.


Why it matters: A new form of politics has entered the spotlight since the controversial 2016 Presidential election, and along with it new challenges arise alongside the old. Fake news and alternative facts seek to veil serial scandals and a polarized society, and minorities become increasingly marginalized as policy swings towards isolationism. How will this affect social progress, technology, and creative industries, and what paths will remain open in this uncertain future?

Tracks: Entertainment Influencers (Film), Government (Interactive), Journalism (Convergence), Music Influencers (Music), Social Impact (Convergence), Tech Industry (Interactive).

Speakers: Patrick Curry, VR Austin; Anil Dash, Fog Creek; Jeff Howe, author of Whiplash; Eli Pariser, Upworthy; Dan Rather, News and Guts; Erin Schrode, journalist and activist; Baratunde Thurston, Baratunde Bureaucracy Corp; Molly Wood, MarketPlace.


Why it matters: From self-monitoring devices to man-modified DNA, the human body is the new ground zero for disruption and innovation. Advances in prosthetics and implants stand alongside the promise of gene editing, while AI and telemedicine loom above the current care provision paradigm.

Tracks: Development & Code (Interactive), Health (Interactive), Social Impact (Convergence).

Speakers: Jennifer Doudna PhD, UC Berkeley; Robert Green, Harvard Medical School; Walter Greenleaf, Stanford University; Dawn Nafus, Intel; Gina Neff, Oxford University; Ali Rezai, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center; Jessica Richman, uBiome; Spencer Wells, Insitome. Mimi Winsberg,


Why it matters: Around the world and in almost every sector, more and more industries are absorbing startups and startup-inspired approaches, driving more innovation in house via hackathons and corporate incubators. Small and innovative products grow fast while options and solutions are tested quickly with no fear of failure. Organization structures are becoming flatter with greater transparency in the workplace resulting in more adaptability as HR now relies on more qualitative over quantitative feedback for employee performance.

Tracks: Music Industry (Music), Startup Village (Convergence), Tech Industry (Interactive), Workplace (Interactive)

Speakers: Jean Case, Case Foundation; Steve Case, Revolution LLC; Ted Cohen, TAG Strategic; Beth Comstock, General Electric; Luisa Conlon, LC Productions; Scott Cook, Intuit; Tilman Fertitta, CNBC/Landry's; Steve Herrod, General Catalyst; Alex Pearce, Jaunt VR; Dr. Mae Jemison, 100 Year Starship; Bob Metcalfe, The University of Texas at Austin; Kerry Rupp, True Wealth Ventures; Chris Sacca, Lowercase Capital; Dr. Umar Saif, Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB); Larry Marcus, Walden Ventures Cindy Whitehead, The Pink Ceiling.


Why it matters: All roads from Silicon Valley lead to Madison Avenue as the marketing industry rushes to assimilate every advance in big data. Large firms are rebranding themselves as tech-first companies to take advantage of the deep insight that data collection can offer into the habits of fans and consumers.

Tracks: Brands & Marketing (Interactive), Film & TV Industry (Film), Music Industry (Music), Startup Village (Convergence), Tech Industry (Interactive).

Speakers: Beverly Atkins, Facebook; Helen Crossley, Facebook; David Grant, CEO of Popsugar; Pieres Fawkes - PSFK; Brian Irving, CMO of Hampton Creek; Elliot Kottek; Rupert Maconick, Saville Productions; Bryan Moffet, NPR; Glenn Peoples, Pandora; Elias Plishner, Sony Pictures; Nathaniel Ru, Founder of SweetGreen; Jen Rubio, Away (Warby Parker's first Head of Social Media); Shiv Singh, Visa; Shane Tobin, Spotify; Jenny Wall, Hulu; Erin Wayne, Twitch; Adrea Zapata, Vevo.


Why it matters: New innovations continue to dismantle traditional approaches to moving people (and products) from one place to another. The impact is already visible with autonomous ground and air vehicles: what are the next steps, and what will the effect of the realisation of massive projects like hyperloop transport networks and the movement towards renewable energy be?

Tracks: Intelligent Future (Interactive), Tech Industry (Interactive)

Speakers: Bill Ford, Ford Motor Company; Doug Kaufman, TransLoc; Paul Mackie, Mobility Lab; Danny Stillion, IDEO; Tim Sylvester, Integrated Roadways; Padmasree Warrior, NextEV.

Photo by Sam Burkardt

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