David Keene: SXSW 2019 Must-Attend Conference/Session List


By David Keene

At SXSW in Austin – the huge conference portion that is largely under the SXSW Interactive flag but also encompasses Education, Film, and Music –  the interactive landscape has often been mapped differently than how some of the core tech communities define them, to encompass any and everything from autonomous cars to consumer Apps to entertainment in all forms to – more recently – AI and VR.  But the last couple of years at SXSW have seen a refreshing broadening of conference activity – combined with deeper dives –  into the most urgent tech-related issues that are transforming every aspect of society:

  • Smart Cities – rethinking the running and management of our cities, with the help of new technology and data tools
  • Modernizing Government Tech beyond just Smart Cities – Transporation; Cyber; Defense; Trade issues
  • Data visualization (and some staging world IMAG) way beyond Apps: larger (and some huge) digital palettes – think big digital displays, direct-view LED, and large venue pixel mapping – that plays into the strengths of larger tech communities such as NAB, CES, ISE, InfoComm, AVIXA, and more. Some of these technologies made a big splash at the last SXSW and will again this year, with “Collective VR” not just VR headsets getting needed attention. (Follow the SXSW Interactive Awards for great examples – see below.)
  • Sports market activity, as the sports landscape is changing rapidly: on the stadium/arena front (with sports venues now retail centers and interactive labs), for streaming, for Broadcast, and with the new kid on the block: eSports
  • Retail issues, including shopper engagement in-store, and Brand and Retail store challenges – issues that have moved to critical stage as Retail tries to reinvent itself
  • Experiential tech beyond Retail– for civic events, education, corporate events, concerts, and more
  • Education issues around both new tech tools and new pedagogies that are changing the way teachers teach and students learn


SXSW Interactive starts this Friday March 8th– I’m ready to hit the ground running. You’ll read my on-the-ground reports on these pages as SXSW unfolds. Here are some of the sessions and events on my to-do list for Sx (“South-By”).

Here are just some of the sessions I’ll attend in the first “Interactive” part of SXSW, and why:


Friday March 8:

How to Bring Public Safety Into the 21st Century

2:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., Hilton Austin Downtown Salon B

Presenters: Seattle Police Department Chief Strategy Officer Chris Fisher; retired Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier; Fortune magazine Editor Polina Marinova; and Mark43 co-founder Matthew Polega.

Law enforcement needs to modernize the tech it uses to do its job. In discussion: barriers to adoption for cloud software, artificial intelligence, data sharing between agencies, and more.


The eSports Gamification of Real Sports

JW Marriott, Salon 1-2


Presenters: Fan Controlled Football League, Riot Games, Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson, and Madden League.

eSports is on the rise. What’s the relationship between eSports, and real sports like NBA, NFL, MLB? What are the tech opportunities and areas of most growth?


Sports Betting is About to Change Sports Forever



Most people are not aware of the big changes that are coming due to a relaxation of the laws around gambling. Get ready for a boom in stadiums, arenas, and new tech for all of that.


AWS + WP Engine SXSW Party

On the outdoor roof/patio of the flagship Whole Foods in downtown Austin.


Sx or no Sx, if you have not been to the flagship Whole Foods store (HQ is right upstairs), you need to see it. Even before Amazon bought Whole Foods, I would always tell newcomers to Austin to go to the flagship Whole Foods – it’s a Retail lab and a kind of town square all in one. Friday, add AWS and WP to the mix and it should be fun and interesting.


Saturday March 9:


• Immersive Storytelling: Breaking the Fourth Wall

Austin Convention Center
Ballroom G


Presenter: Diego Prilusky, Intel Studios

Creative pioneer Diego Prilusky – the driving force behind Intel Studios, the “world’s largest performance stage for volumetric capture and production” – will take attendees through the “mind-bending capabilities of new media formats” and demonstrate past explorations in immersive media and sports entertainment.


Also in same time slot:


Politico Editorial – AI Goes to Washington

The Sunset Room

310 East 3rd Street

9:30am – 11:00am

Conversation between Patrick Steel, CEO, POLITICO and Steve Harris, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Dell EMC Federal.

“Deep-dive conversation on determining how the federal government should approach artificial intelligence implementation in public decision-making. The discussion will explore how AI is shaping the way government operates, its effects on citizen welfare and its potential applications in the military.” That last part – a whole new area that’s opening up for tech generally in the U.S. –  and certainly not, historically, on the radar of SXSW attendees. More on that theme as SXSW 2019 progresses, speaking of which:


• Answering the Call: Tech for Public Purpose

Courtyard Marriott, Rio Grande Ballroom, 300 E. 4th St.
11am to 12pm
Presenters: Ash Carter, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, and Horacio Rozanski, Booz Allen Hamilton CEO.
The former secretary of defense under Obama and the CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton will discuss how technologists can contribute more to society’s betterment not just for individuals and companies. Transitioning from the private to public sector is likely to be a main topic of conversation here, and Ash Carter is on a mission so to speak to help bring in more tech talent and tech solutions to help government – taking a page from his former boss who spoke at SXSW a few years back, on the same issue. (My coverage of the 2016 Obama session at SXSW, here.)


Interactive Awards Finalist showcase

Austin Convention Center, Exhibit Hall 1

12noon-6pm: Interactive Awards Finalist showcase

Anyone who is following how larger (and some huge) digital palettes and networked systems – think bigger displays, direct-view LED, and large venue projection, that plays into the strengths of larger tech communities such as NAB, CES, AVIXA, CEDIA, and more– are getting some synergies with the large SXSW world, must see these demos. Hundreds of projects were entered for a chance at the top honors in each of 13 categories that cover innovations from AR and VR to Smart Cities to Health & Bio to Data and Privacy to entertainment technology.

The Finalist Showcase on Sunday, March 10 will be followed by the Interactive Innovation Awards ceremony on Monday evening, March 11.


• Reimagining the Cinema Experience

Austin Convention Center
Ballroom G


Presenters: Tobias Weber, CtrMovie Ltd; Sarah Brin, Meow Wolf; Max Rheiner, Somniacs AG; Nicola Ruffo, siessnex SF

Can the collective experience of the movie theatre be enhanced by multioptional storytelling? Or is there a need of a physical experience through virtual reality and robotics technology?


SXSW Pitch: Augmented and Virtual Reality Technology



The title says it all – pitches by actual companies with (sorry about the oxymoron) real VR.


Sunday March 10:

AI and the Future of Storytelling

Austin Convention Center, Ballroom F

9:30 am-10:30am

Presenters: Douglas Eck, Google; Charles Melcher, Future of Storytelling; Heather Smith, StoryFile; and Lance Weiler, Columbia University

How do you feel about machines creating stories or art?


How Technology Can Balance Urban/Rural Development

Palm Door on Sixth, 508 E. 6th St.

11am – 12pm
Presenters: Mihai Bilauca of the Limerick City and County Council; Nikos Chatzoudis of the European Commission; Boston Digital Equity Advocate Anne Schwieger; and Cris Turner of Dell.
Officially: “The continued spread of high-speed Internet infrastructure means that technologists can now work just as easily from many rural locales as they can from within cities. This panel looks at what can be done via technology for more equitable development of urban and rural spaces.” An interesting variation of the “digital divide” that calls up both rural/urban discrepancies and demographic discrepancies within cities. Remember all the hype about Net Neutrality? Now seems like ancient history. But the digital divide is where NN comes into play.


Who Will Lead in the Race for AI in Defense?



Presenters: Wendy Anderson, SparkCognition; Elsa Kania, Center for a New American Security; Chris Shank, OSD Strategic Capabilities Office; Jim Townsend, Center for a New American Security

“The edge AI provides in both war and peace has the potential to decide the shape of the international stage in the coming future. Where does this AI “space race” currently stand? How will it change the future of warfare? And how will it change the future of the globe?”


Mummies to Manet: Immersive Experiments in Museums



Museums using new generation video projection, digital  displays + interactive tech to turn their museum spaces from old-school “boring things on walls” to more exciting, attractive, interactive spaces.


Monday March 11:

Fighting Homelessness with Ethical Technology

Hilton Austin Downtown Room 400 – 402
Presenters: Miracle Messages CEO Kevin Adler; Meredith Hitchcock of Promise; Austin CIO Kerry O’Connor; and Riverside, Calif., Assistant to the Mayor Luke Villalobos.
Focus on using tech to combat homelessness, specifically how ethical considerations factor into software development and other tech tools.

Can there be a more worthy goal? Can we all get behind this problem?


Making the Holodeck: Interaction in Room-Scale VR



Presenters: Andrew Eiche, and Carrie Witt, from Owlchemy Labs

“As virtual reality hardware becomes more widespread, interactive room-scale VR experiences are expanding far beyond the realm of gaming. From cinematic experiences and art installations to training simulations and branded content, virtually every industry is experimenting with interactive VR.” – as I said at last year’s SXSW: “collective VR” is the future, not more VR headsets… here we go.


The Future of Augmented Reality in Sports



Note the AR, not VR. A lot more opportunity there.


SXSW 2019 Interactive Awards ceremony



Do not miss this –  you get a huge helping of great tech + great people all in one room! This not a boring rubber chicken Awards ceremony– it will do no less than make you feel elated about what you do for a living.


Tuesday March 12:

AI, Big Ideas, and Shiny Objects – Group 1


Harvard AI lab

Westin, Paramount 3

This is a hands-on lab with the Harvard AI Lab: no-hype, let’s look at examples of AI.


Simulating Reality: The Future of Film Production



Presenters: Girish Balakrishnan, Sr. Manager, Virtual Production

Netflix; Drew Diamond, Producer, Entertainment Technology Center @USC; Brian Frager, Writer & Producer, Shatterproof Films; Kerry Shea, Head of Studio Film LA, MPC

Should be great. Gaming meets Film, is the heart of it. And Filmmaking tools from real-time collaboration inside of engines such as Unity @unity3d and Unreal @UnrealEngine.


Art Museums as Spaces of Digital Play



Presenters: Sarah Brin, Meow Wolf; Chad Coerver, San Francisco Museum of Art; Charles Yust, frog design

The title says it all.


• Experience the Next Generation of Hi-Fi Entertainment at NHK’s 8K Theater


8K Theater: Grimes Studio, 500 E 5th St., Austin, TX.
March 11-13, 10:00am-6:00pm

Tokyo Virtual Tour:
March 11-13, 6:30pm

The title is not that helpful. This is: Sony’s micro LED, Crystal. You’ve seen at InfoComm, ISE, CES. See it at SXSW “in the wild”.


Wednesday March 13:

• Music Industry 3.0: The Great Rebalancing Begins



Music was a canary in the digital coal mine, and after 18 years of disruption, 2018 brought growing micro-transactions, shoring up of data, and artists retaining their own rights. A slow turn of the industry tanker, we call this new era Music Industry 3.0.

Music Industry 1.0 = old business of CDs and radio singles, a high margin low complexity business that flourished for decades. Music Industry 2.0 = a digitized version of the same, except high complexity and low margin. This bumpy road brought economic chaos but also glimmering opportunities of global reach, new tools, and democratized distribution. Music Industry 3.0 = creator-led. This forces change across labels, publishers, managers and artists.


• Making Audio First and Audio Only Experiences



Presenters: Jessica Brillhart, VRAI Pictures; Matthew Neutra Lead Experience Engineer Bose Corporation; Francesca Panetta, Nieman Fellow & Executive Editor of Virtual Reality, Harvard University/The Guardian; Ted Schilowitz, Futurist, Paramount Pictures

New ways to engage users, including augmented and virtual reality, have relied mostly on informing the user in a visual way. Through a panel discussion featuring those that represent new techniques and those that have implemented them, we will explore the possibilities and importance of engaging the user first, and maybe only, with sound.


• Stuck at the Crossroads of Life



After serving the U.S. government for more than a decade, first in the CIA and then as a U.S. Special Agent and undercover operator with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Tim Ballard left his career to create Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.); a non-profit that fights against the kidnapping and exploitation of children throughout the world.

An example (one of many, hundreds) of how, at SXSW, you can step outside your own box and tech bubble, and see how other people are doing things that make a difference in the world– not just in their own “industry”.


Thursday March 14

• Self-Sovereignty, Open Protocols and Future of Music



As art and money become increasingly reduced to data, and thus increasingly fluid, how will rights-holder data be tracked, who will own it, and how might an open protocol enable artists to better track and monetize the content they create? Technology such as blockchain and distributed ledgers are creating new opportunities for self sovereignty, whether in supply chains, emerging nations, or for the new media industry. Hear from a cross-industry panel that convenes experts from the worlds of blockchain, data science, and auditing on how the future music industry can deploy these methods to track digital assets, and open new artistic opportunities, especially as remixing and user-generated content becomes the rule rather than the exception.


Friday March 15:

Going Global – How Gaming Attracts the World’s Largest Brands



Presenters: Amber Allen, Double A; Michael Hume, Washington Post; Deric Ortiz, Advocate; Patrick Wixted, Ketchum.

If you’re still standing by then, don’t miss this one. Gamification of brands.


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