Favorite activity in Austin: Sleeping
- Hugh Forrest serves as the Director of the SXSW Interactive Festival, the five-day gathering of digital creatives that occurs in Austin every March.
- Over the last few years, SXSW Interactive has emerged as one of the world's most influential events for the new media industry. Forrest graduated from Austin High School in 1980, then majored in English at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He held several jobs in the newspaper industry before surrendering to the digital revolution.
- WHY IS SXSW IN AUSTIN?
- There are a lot of reasons why Austin is a great place for SXSW. Probably the foremost of those reasons is just that there's so much creativity and creative people in Austin, and that's again what we've always tried to emphasize is the bottom line of SXSW Interactive, that people are doing very, very creative things, it just happens to be new media or new technology that they're using as a means to this creativity.
- Interactive was traditionally the smallest aspect of SXSW and probably would not have survived some fairly lean years if not for SXSW Music paying a lot of the bills. That said, we have been lucky enough to experience a lot of growth over the last 5 years, and we now have more registrants than music or film, so that's nice to see. I mean, it's very nice to be a part of that growth after struggling through some very tough times when we were trying everything and not growing a whole lot.
- At SXSW 10 or 15 years ago, we had tons of bands coming to Austin with a suitcase full of CDs, and they wanted to get a CD to the A&R person, who was probably having drinks all day at the Four Seasons.
- Because of the nature of the content industry changing, that's not so important anymore. I mean, people can -- bands can load their video up to YouTube and get exposure that way, but I do think that whole model has changed a little.
- So we've got all these VCs now in Austin, in March, and all these young entrepreneurs coming to town with their business plan and trying to get that in the hands of VCs, trying to kind of find the same equation that we had with music before.
- But again, this is all good things. It's great to have that energy, that excitement, that anticipation that people can come to SXSW and they can make the connection that will, you know, change their lives forever.
- HOW CAN SXSW INTERACTIVE STAY AHEAD OF THE CURVE?
- SXSW will remain relevant, always has to be fluid, always has to change, and always has to try and stay ahead of the market, as opposed to trying to emulate what we did 5 years ago.
- The fact that Twitter, you know, was here in 2007, and has become such a huge thing in the succeeding years has, you know, helped us grow a lot, in the sense that lots of startups, lots of potential startups, lots of aspiring entrepreneurs think that SXSW is the place to go to be discovered, and to become the next Twitter.
- We've seen other high profile launches here, particularly in 2009, FourSquare launched here, as did Gowalla. Lots more in 2010 and 2011, although these are -- most of things are companies that we may not have heard of yet, and again, that's kind of the pattern with SXSW: something launches here, it gains traction with this somewhat-insular, cutting-edge tech crowd. It won't necessarily spread to the more mainstream crowd for a couple of years. So I think we'll know later in 2012/2013 which of the companies from 2011 that launched at SXSW are particularly hot.
- WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT AUSTIN?
- Austin is great place to visit. There's great weather here in March. It's the best weather of the year, I think. It's not too hot yet, it's not too cold. There are lots of great restaurants and lots of great things to do.
- And you know, we spend a hell of a lot of time working on panels, working on trade shows, working on other programming, yadda yadda yadda, and try to make that as good as possible and hopefully that, you know, meets the expectations, satisfies, however you want to phrase that, for our registrants, but, you know, in reality, that's only half the battle.
- What sells a lot of people is just coming down and enjoying Austin and enjoying again the food, or the people, or the restaurants, or the vibe. It's such a different city than so many other places, and again: we couldn't pull this off anywhere else, I don't think.
- Some of the things that I'm most excited about in Austin now, and again this kind of from a bigger-picture perspective is just the amount of startups here, the amount of startup energy here, the amount of overall tech energy here.
- And I also really am excited by how these kind of more traditional industries and organizations, such as the City of Austin, such as the Chamber of Commerce, are realizing how much potential there is there, and how much potential there is for the future of Austin.
- There are a lot of ways that Austinites can take advantage of the event. If people in Austin have the resources and interest in registering, it's again a great way to learn what is coming up in the technology world. Someone mentioned to me this summer, that they go to SXSW Interactive to see what will be hot in 2 years, so I think that's a great description of the event.
- I encourage all of Austin to take part and take advantage of just the creativity and energy and excitement that is in the air during SXSW. Again, it's just that mix of so many creative people and so many ideas, and so much new energy. It just is a very special time of the year. I think Austin is just supportive and there's a community presence here that a lot of cities don't have. And again, Austin is a vital part of the SXSW success story.