The end of SXSW as we know it?

sxsw convention crowd

For me, there are two MUST go-to events in the digital marketing space — Social Slam (naturally) and SXSW.

If Social Slam is friendly, inexpensive and accessible, Austin’s SXSW Festival is its alter-ego!  But SXSW is also unparalleled in its showcase of cutting edge content and ideas, its potential for networking with every high flyer in the business, and the diversity of its content.

It is also a painful experience.  SXSW is frightfully expensive to attend. The venues are so spread out across the city of Austin that you cannot hope to see a fraction of what you want to see. But most of all, SXSW is CROWDED.

To anyone visiting this event, it’s apparent that SXSW has FAR outgrown the city of Austin’s ability to handle it.  The hotel rooms are sold out six months in advance. The convention center corridors are so jammed you can hardly move, let alone find a quiet place to talk. And the sessions are so packed you can’t even attend most of the popular keynotes.  Many people sit on the floor and watch popular speeches on TV monitors.  Pretty ridiculous.

So it’s not entirely surprising that the event appears to be easing out of Austin for the ultimate convention site — Las Vegas. Here is the announcement from yesterday:

Announcing SXSW V2V!

We are excited to announce SXSW V2V, the newest addition to the SXSW family of events. SXSW V2V is an extension and re-imagining of the 26-year-old Austin event with an emphasis on the creative spark that drives entrepreneurial innovation.

The startup and venture capital space is of major interest to all the creative industries that are at the core of the SXSW family of events. SXSW V2V features four days of informative panels and workshops, inspirational speakers, intensive mentor and coaching programs, networking events and receptions, pitch competitions and startup showcases. This new event will offer an intimate environment for innovators and entrepreneurs across all creative industries learn the skills, make the connections and find the inspiration to take their ideas and talents to the next level. If you are involved in building an app, a service, a business, a brand or a community, then this event is for you.

Join us for this excitement-packed, four-day event Sunday August 11, 2013 through Wednesday August 14, 2013 at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada.

SXSW is commonly referred to as the “World Series of Start-ups.”  Is that title now moving to a new Las Vegas event?

I think much of the appeal of SXSW is the electricity driven by the start-up community.  Going to SXSW without the start-ups will be like eating cake without the icing. If SXSW migrates the start-up frenzy to a new Las Vegas event the Austin conference will lose its soul.  Bootstrapping entrepreneurs are going to have to place a bet because they more than likely will not be able to attend two different (and expensive) events to try to get attention.

It’s not entirely a surprise that SXSW is snapping its funky Austin roots but it makes me wonder if the entire conference is imploding from its success like a star that grows so large that it starts collapsing on itself.

Note: After this post ran, I was contacted by Hugh Forrest, Director of SXSW Interactive, who wanted to clarify the strategy behind Las Vegas versus Austin.  I asked him specifically to address the question, “If I was bootstrapping a new business and had to choose between Austin and Las Vegas, which would I choose and why?”  Here is his response: 

We are very excited about all the excitement that the SXSW V2V announcement generated last week. Las Vegas has a small but fast-growing community of startups and digital creatives — so being a part of this emerging scene in August 2013 offers lots of amazing possibilities.

That said, the SXSW V2V event will NOT preclude SXSW Interactive from hosting dozens and dozens of startup-related programing in March 2013 in Austin. For a list of the 50+ startup-related panels and solo presentations currently planned for spring 2013 in Austin, please see this blog post from the SXSW website on October 15 — http://bit.ly/WdUppm

In short, we feel that there is enough momentum / energy in this startup ecosystem to fuel two very different events in two very different cities (Austin and Las Vegas).

If you are a startup, should you attend the event in Austin or Las Vegas (or both)? That really depends on your particular situation. If your schedule is already booked for spring 2013, then you now have another option to receive the same kind of great startup-related programming by attending the SXSW V2V event in August in Las Vegas.

 

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  • Seeing that announcement earlier today made me think of one phrase – Jumped the shark.

  • macsonix

    If SXSW sends the start-ups to Vegas it’ll lose its soul? IMHO, it will gain it back. It was about music in the first place, not business or media or entrepreneurship.

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  • geofflivingston

    I have won more than $500,000 of business from Sx in the past four years! Until that changes, I’m all in! Year five here I come!

  • There are, of course, three overlapping conferences: interactive, film and music. I don’t think film and music would be affected by this announcement at all — probably improved, as you say!

  • I’m not sure there is a place in the world hotter than Vegas in August… but…. room rates should be cheaper, at least 😉

  • Yeah, I’ll bet they got a deal!

  • Sounds like a blog post Geoff. How to win business at SXSW!

  • John Nosta

    Well said Mark!!!

  • geofflivingston

    LOL, got one in the cue, tend to be a couple weeks ahead on publishing and the topic is evergreen!

  • Also, I am applying to be adopted by you. I am low maintenance and can help with the cooking and blogging.

  • My thought too.

  • Will be interesting to see where this goes!

  • Does that mean you’re coming in March? Yay!

  • I received the email about the Vegas location the other day but hadn’t considered the full implications. One of the comments below says that the music and film portions could improve, which is true. It’s just that Austin is start-up city. It’s one of the things I love about the city. The entrepreneurship mentality is encouraged. I don’t know that that would disappear if SXSW moved, but it could have an effect upon it.

  • geofflivingston

    Oh yeah!

  • geofflivingston

    Hahahahaha!

  • I plan to find where some of the free things are. If my interactive session idea is accepted, though, I should be able to go to some of the other sessions – depending on what else is happening in my life then.

  • Agree. I’m guessing Austin is not happy about this!

  • When I got that communication, I was left wondering what V2V meant exactly. Is it “venture 2 Vegas?” The entire explanation was not clear…

  • ya got me. Don’t know.

  • Josh Chandler

    My last visit was two years ago. It was very busy back then and I am told by others that it is getting much worse. I think the decision – to go or not to go to SXSW – all comes down to whether you see a direct impact on brand engagement or sales from attending the event.

  • I always wanted to go to SXSW, but never could afford it. The last three years or so, after listening to friends who did go, I’m sort of glad I wasn’t there. I hate crowds and at SX, I’m sure I’d always feel like I was missing out on something cool no matter where I was. Yes, I think it is a victim of its own success.

  • There are two main reason I attend, which are different from what you suggest. First, I get energized by the content and the new ideas. There is probably no place on earth that brings so many people together in the digital space to share. It’s overwhelming but also exhilarating. I get re-charged. Second, this is the place to network with friends new and old. I know at least once a year I will get to connect with many of my blog readers and Twitter connections! And, I also do some business of course but those are the two main reasons.

  • I’m usually OK in crowds but even I get a little creeped out by the human density at SXSW. I recall trying to find a quiet place to do a video interview and it was wall-to-wall people as far as I could see. And outside the convention center is a bit of a circus with people who aren;t even part of the show trying to get your attention in any way possible!

  • Kelly

    Thanks for including SXSW as one of your go-to events & pointing out our diversity in content, Mark. And agreed on the networking aspect, too. But I’d also like to clear up some confusion. We are not taking our startup community or startup programming out of Austin. The startup scene, particularly Startup Village is one of our most popular aspects / attractions at SXSW in March and continues to grow. We’re certainly not changing that, as evident in our confirmed startup / business-related programming for 2013. See here: http://sxsw.com/interactive/talks/programming.

    We saw a great opportunity to take the startup-focused momentum and create a completely different & unique event, focusing on this entrepreneurial spirit that embodies the SXSW creative nature. As I’m sure you know, Las Vegas is becoming a hub for innovators and digital creatives — it’s exciting for us to help foster the growth that Austin has experienced with its startup & tech communities in other parts of the country.

    Hope to still see you back in March.

  • I’m amused by the ‘most people hate crowds so SXSW is going to implode’ POV. Historically and sociologically, many successful people seek out crowds rather than avoiding them, whether in choosing bars or cities or even places to hang out during a house party: the kitchen is the most crowded rooms at most parties because that’s the place where traffic and feet-per-square-foot are the greatest. Because so many smart people convene on Austin in March, the odds of running into hundreds of smart people go WAY up. And because Austin is (almost) nobody’s home town, people from LA, NYC, Chicago, SF, Atlanta, etc, etc all are on equal footing there. So the normal city-clad cliques are busted open, and Internauts can aspire to be as open and random as the Internet is itself.

  • I read the SXSW person’s comment of “If your schedule is already booked for spring 2013” to mean “if you got shut out of hotel rooms and can’t afford the sky-high plane fares to Austin, now you have another option.” Because that’s the main problem with SXSW as I see it – far too big, dispersed, expensive and difficult to get to.

    I don’t like city-wide networking and the endless running around of SXSW, it overwhelms me. This looks promising as a hotel-based Vegas option will be far better for me and the way I do business.

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