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The Story of South by Southwest: Hugh Forrest at ComNet19


Hugh Forrest of South by Southwest (SXSW) joined Melanie Newman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a conversation on the value of in-person gatherings, why quality is much more important than quantity and how and why SXSW continues to grow in an era of easy digital connections.

Below, watch the video, listen to the podcast or read the transcript.




A lightly edited transcript follows below:

Melanie Newman: Let’s get started. Thank you so much, Hugh, for coming. Thanks to all of you for coming to hear the story of South by Southwest.

Hugh Forrest: Great to be here. Welcome to Austin.

Hugh Forrest, the Chief Programming Officer for South by Southwest. I am Melanie Newman. I’m the Senior Vice President for Communications and Culture at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Let me be clear, I think we have the order here somewhat mistaken. I should really be interviewing you, but I think that’s much more interesting than you interviewing me. Hopefully we’ll get a little more Planned Parenthood story within the next hour as well.

My friend, Sean, knows that I am uncomfortable in the hot seat, and I feel like Oprah over here.

Well, funny. That’s the same thing you told me and said that I should ask you that.

I think we want to get started with a quick video about South by Southwest. Can we cue a video?

Hugh, you are the Chief Programming Officer for South by Southwest. That means you get to decide the content that is expressed at the festival. You’ve been doing this since 1987?



’89. I oversee, work with a staff. The programing department has about 50 people total. A lot of very, very smart and talented people. My role is again, a little more overseeing. I’m not rubber stamping every single panel, or presentation, or session, or band, or film that we have for the event, but trying to create a overall vision of the things we want to cover, and trying to empower as many folks on the staff to execute that vision.

Can you talk a little bit about the history and growth? You may not be rubber stamping every decision, but adding content pillars to the program over time, I think started out with music. You’ve expanded to include different types of content, political content now, tech. Can you talk a bit about how the festival has grown?

Sure. We started, South by Southwest started in 1987, so more than 30 years ago at this point. In 1987, South by Southwest was a music only event. It was patterned after an event that happened in New York called the New Music Seminar. At one point, the organizers of the New Music Seminar were going to come to Austin and start a New Music Seminar South. That plan fell through, so the team that was the liaison team to that New Music Seminar team decided, “Well we can just do this ourselves.”

These people, that team all worked at The Austin Chronicle, which is our weekly newspaper. They had a lot of great relationships with club owners, which is what you need when you’re putting on a music event. They talked to the various club owners about, “We want to do this New Music Festival. It’ll be this great thing.” Turns out club owners are a lot more conservative than you might have thought. Most of the club owners said, “That sounds like a great idea. Come back in two, or three, or four years when you have a business plan.”

Eventually, they knocked on enough doors that found a small window to work with. These were club owners who had said, “Well, we have one week out of the year, which is our worst week out of the year. We can’t do any worse with our club than what we’re doing already, so you can use my club that week.” That was Spring Break week, where you had 50,000 UT students leaving town to go to the beach, or go skiing. Most of the clubs were fairly empty then, so South by Southwest came and filled that void.

Within a few years, it was one of the most profitable weeks for most of these clubs. Again, that was a music event. That was 1987. In 1994, we added what was film, and what was then called Multimedia. Then in 1995, we split those two things out. More recently, and I’ll shout out to my colleague somewhere over there, we added South by Southwest EDU in 2011, which covers new innovative thinking in the education space.

Again, where we are in 2019, somewhat what you saw in the video. We have 22 different tracks of programming, so we cover everything from startups to sports, from game industry to politicians. We’ve got space, we’ve got fashion, all kinds of different things, with the connecting thread between all these different kinds of tracks and all this different kinds of content, a strong, strong focus on creativity. That certainly makes sense in Austin, which has been a city that has always celebrated, propagated, focused on creative endeavors. It’s been a really great match and from my perspective a incredible journey to be on.

Thank you. Can you talk a little bit about how the expansion of digital media, social media, I know Twitter launched at South by Southwest in 2007, how it’s expanded the experience beyond just what happens in Austin.

Yeah. Great question. Social media has certainly been a huge, huge part of the growth in South by Southwest. Again, we added this thing called Multimedia in 1994. I was tasked with managing this. I didn’t really understand what multimedia was. It was at that point …

I don’t think most of us understood it.

Yeah, most of us still don’t. At that point, we were essentially pre-internet. Mostly what we were focusing on is CD-ROMs. The multimedia part …

It was 1994, guys.

The multimedia part, eventually our name transitioned to Interactive, and then we more by luck than by strategic design, we were in the right place at the right time with a lot of the early social media pioneers and innovators. That really fueled our growth. That started in 2004, when we had a gentleman named Jonathan Abrams, who is the Founder and CEO of Friendster, as a keynote.

Then as you mentioned, a couple years later Twitter kind of launched at South by Southwest. I say kind of because they had already been out for several months. There was definitely a pre-Twitter South by Southwest and a post-Twitter South by Southwest, in the sense that that really created the growth trajectory that we experienced during that time period where all kinds of startups wanted to come to South by Southwest and get that same push that Twitter had received, plus all kinds of VCs.

Two years later, a young Mark Zuckerberg spoke at South by Southwest in somewhat of a disastrous keynote.

Surprise, surprise.

The fact of having social media certainly, and having so many of these early social media pioneers and adopters at South by Southwest expanded the audience, such that it was more of a global, and worldwide, and international audience. You could see what was happening at the event. That has been a strong part of our growth.

I think it’s particularly interesting, for lack of a better term, in terms of where we are in 2019 and soon to be 2020 with social media. This is something that’s fueled so much of our growth at South by Southwest. Certainly, I think almost all of us have a slightly different understanding of social media at this point than we did two, or three, or four years ago.

At one point, we thought this was going to connect us all, and make us closer, and make the world a more unified place. There has certainly been some of that, but we also understand that social media is a way to target hate speech for these kinds of different groups to connect. That, again, is a whole different landscape than where we were at before, and makes it particularly interesting to be thinking about programming South by Southwest now and what that means.

That leads me to another question about audience curation. What made South by Southwest the venue for these innovators to want to be present? Then how do you curate an audience where creativity is respected, but not hate speech or other types of discussions that you might see on social media? How do you determine what your audience looks like?

Two great questions there. I think that to the question of why South by Southwest, why it grew, why it became popular there, I think there are a lot of different explanations, but I think one that is powerful and interesting to think about is that again, South by Southwest had started as this music event and had really gained traction initially as a music event. We weren’t gaining traction initially as a technology event.

I can remember talking many times to my boss when we weren’t growing so much and saying, “I just don’t think it makes sense to do this tech stuff at South by Southwest. It’s just not the same audience.” We’ve got movie stars over here, we’ve got rock stars over here, and I’ve got nerds and geeks over here. They just don’t mix at all, but …

Merry band of misfits.

Yeah. But, remember that began to flip around 2003, 2004, 2005 where you began to have this very strong and powerful narrative of startups. You could go control your own career. I think again, this is one of the things or one of the reasons that South by Southwest grew is we had these early tech innovator startups who could see themselves on the same stage as musicians and movie stars, and, “Hey, I’m finally getting my due, I’m part of this artistic equation.” I think that’s one of the reasons for our trajectory during that time period.

To your second question about how you mitigate, moderate things like hate speech within South by Southwest, I think we’ve gotten better, and at this point pretty good, having tripped a few times on that. One of the things that we do to get the bulk of our content, we pull that from the community. We have an interface called the South by Southwest Panel Picker. Anyone with a internet connection can enter a speaking proposal. This reflects a strong idea and belief that the community often understands things a lot better than you do, that the community is often the experts, as opposed to the organizers. So this was a way for us to better receive these ideas.

At this point, i.e., for the Panel Picker phase that we were just finishing now. We got something like 6,000 total ideas. Most of those are, I think, forward thinking, positive ideas, as with a lot of social media platforms or I think most social media platforms. This is in a sense social media, we have learned the hard way that you have to have a vetting system on comments, because we’d see certain sessions have comments that were not particularly positive. Again, we’ve had a few missteps along the way, but learned from those, in terms of that would be an interesting perspective to hear. No, it’s probably not an interesting perspective to hear and learn from that.

But again, social media is a big part of our DNA and therefore presents some significant challenges moving forward in terms of who do we showcase, what’s that next generation of inspiring tech leaders. I think that’s a little bit harder to find in 2019 and 2020 than maybe five years ago.

You talked a little bit about missteps. Can you talk about the resilience of the South by Southwest brand, how you’ve dealt with those missteps and come out bigger, stronger, better on the other side? We talked a little bit about Gamergate. I don’t know how many of you know about Gamergate, but I’d love to hear you tell that story.

Well, I think one of the lessons of the success of South by Southwest, one of the big lessons is simply how long the event has gone on, and that started in 1987. Maybe less so now, but I’ll often get emails, talk to people at events saying, “Well, you guys just started a few year ago, right?” I’m like, “Well, no. Actually way back when.” We’ve grown slowly and organically. That slow and organic growth, incremental growth has added up to an event that is scaled to be pretty large at this point. That’s neat.

I think also, why I bring that up is that when you were doing an event in the ’80s and the ’90s, your mistakes weren’t magnified to the extent that mistakes are magnified now with social media. We made a lot of mistakes and they were magnified in their own way, but again, a completely different landscape than what you have now. During that time period, you could make a mistake, correct it, learn from it, do hopefully better the next year, and again, you weren’t broadcast in a way it is now.

Flash forward to 2015, Fall of 2015, about right now, we had an unfortunate experience with Gamergate. For those of you who are unaware of what Gamergate is, roughly it is a division that started in the gaming community with one camp saying that games should be whatever games want to be, and should have male heroes, and not care anything about the world we live in, and creating a more equitable depiction of the world. The other side is saying that games should be socially conscious and should have more representative figures. That is a very, very, very, very boiled down version of what Gamergate is all about.

We got embroiled in this because we accepted a speaking proposal that was essentially pro Gamergate, trying to defend pro side of the perspective that gaming males and gaming should be able to create a gaming world, however they want to and not care about this. We then double downed our mistakes by then kicking that panel off the program. Then that created even more of an uproar within our community, which quickly transitioned to a larger community. We then pulled it back in. It was certainly two weeks out of my life that in retrospect were learned a lot from, but would not wish that trauma on my worst enemies of having email blown up, all kinds of people from both sides. I’m sure you experience this much more in your job than I do in mine.

Every single day.

Yeah. Again, more interesting person, less interesting person.


We learned from that. The biggest thing we learned from that, and it’s the simplest thing and it applies to anybody doing anything is don’t make hasty decisions. If we thought about this decision more, if we thought about this decisions, other decisions, if we come to a decision, okay, let’s sleep on it, and if we had more people that we bounced off this we would have probably taken a different course.

Another thing that’s less universal but also interesting from that lesson is that everything we saw there during South by Southwest episode with Gamergate, which seemed so crazy and ridiculous, and how can this be happening, and why is this narrative slipping away from us, and how can’t we control this, that whole thing transitioned to the national political stage. Gamergate is precursor to the alt-right. It was an early lesson in the power of social, in the power of the micro communities to drive a narrative, to create a narrative. It was an early lesson in how social media can be used for hate speech. We like to say in a positive way that South by Southwest in its best days is where you come to learn about the future, where you come to learn, to learn the hot new technology in two years, the best band that will be breaking in two years, a filmmaker that will break in two years.

In this particular case, we were a unfortunate pioneer of what was to happen with the entire nation in two years. There’s certainly some very interesting and informative stories that have been done about Gamergate, as a larger thing, not simply at South by Southwest, and how that has informed, in a negative way, the rise of the alt-right, and the rise of hate speech, and how those early players that, again, started off contained within the game industry, or game industry fans went onto shape so much of where we are now and so many of the problems that we have now.

In the content development process, you manage a team of 50 people. Your team oversees the Panel Picker process, you decided what tracks will exist every year. Who are the people in the room making that decision? What’s the diversity like on your team? This is something, I just want to, it’s something that has been a theme, particularly this year at ComNet in talking about how we as communicators are thinking about creating space, and room for diverse conversations and decision makers, to ensure that the people are in the room who can say this might be a bad idea.

Sure. Strangely enough, last week and this week is when we do the bulk of our final selection process, so being here and talking to you, it’s a nice rest bit from …

The pressure is off a little.

It’s not pressure, it’s just a little bit exhausting. How that will work is that one day will be one track. Say yesterday was the sports track, we have a track lead who is responsible for running that meeting, then they’ll be four or five other people in that meeting that are making, again, final decisions on content that was entered through the Panel Picker. Those final decisions are informed by public voting. The Panel Picker allows the panel to do a thumbs up or a thumbs down rating. It also is informed by our advisory board, which rates these things and it’s also informed by staff.

The hope is that by having four people in the room talking, hopefully there is a robust discussion on every single idea that we’re thinking about. This is a great idea because well now I don’t think this is a great idea, because, and I think that leads to greater decisions. Again, each day they’re probably going over 60 or 70 different ideas.

In terms of your diversity question there, our staff is very diverse in terms of a gender perspective. From an ethnic perspective, we still would like to achieve more diversity there, but I think we have done a lot of that within our diversity board, and that counts for a lot too.


Certainly, within the context of what you’ve talked about, the themes today, we have seen that our community very much wants more content and programming that is focused on diversity and inclusion. I think that we’ve made a lot of steps, positive steps in that direction over the last 10 years. I think what’s interesting and informative about those positive steps is that 10 years ago, it was a panel about blogging all black, with four black bloggers on stage. Okay, cool. That’s neat. There were some very interesting perspective there.Now I think we’ve become better skilled at simply not trying to create these little silos of content like that, but getting more diversity and inclusion on every panel, and having that and reflecting that in a more positive way that is a better look at how our ideal world should be.

Let’s talk about the future of South by Southwest and the future ideas. You talked earlier about South by Southwest really being on the cutting edge, who are the bands that are coming up, what’s the technology that we’re going to see. What do you think is next for South by Southwest? Do you have on hints on the panels and the tracks that we will see at this year’s South by Southwest? Or just generally where do you think we’re going in some of these spaces?

Well, let me first state the obvious that predicting the future is a fool’s game. No one is very good at it, and we certainly aren’t either, although given the amount of content we do something that we picked looked amazing and that works well.

In terms of some of the stuff that’s new, that we will be covering for 2020, are new and covering in more depth, we’ve got a space track for 2020. One of the things that’s interesting to think about in terms of space is this idea that space in 2020 is beginning to be a little bit similar to where the internet type technology was 20 or 25 years ago, that there are more private companies doing it. While it’s still incredibly expensive, the expenses are beginning to come down, and that is becoming a little more accessible to more people to get involved with flights to the moon, to Mars.

The president is creating a space army too.

Yeah, well that too.

That’s coming.

We’re in lockstep with that move.

We can fight Thanos. Sorry, I’ve been watching Avengers movies with my child. I couldn’t help myself.

I think one of the interesting concepts there is that if you play that comparison out, can we do better with space exploration than we have done with the internet? On the one hand, the bar is pretty low in terms of where the internet is. Space exploration obviously is a completely different ballgame, but are there ways to learn from some of the triumphs from those early internet years, as well as the missteps and mistakes, and have better outcomes there?

We’ve also got another track for 2020, which is called Connection and Culture. That again feeds into this idea that we have more ways to connect with each other through social media in 2019 than we have ever before, and yet more and more we realize how hollow those connections are. There is by some counts an epidemic. Hard to use that word of loneliness in the US or around the world, and that these hollowness of these social media connections is one of the factors there.

I’ll use that as a little bit of a transition to talking about events like South by Southwest, events like ComNet, and the important of these events in terms of where we are in 2019 and 2020 that one of the big ironies of South by Southwest is while we have so much focus on technology at this point in our journey, what we inevitably find and to some degree is surprising every year is that people who come to South by Southwest, the lesson they have it’s less about learning about new technology and more about face to face connections.

Talking to someone at a party, having breakfast with someone, have coffee with someone, and that face to face connection is still extremely powerful. It’s why events like South by Southwest, like ComNet, like ACL this coming weekend in Austin are so, so powerful. But bringing people together, that face to face connection is always been something that we crave, but even more powerful in 2019 and 2020 given some of the geopolitical challenges we have, as well as some of the challenges with social media.

I know there are some people in this room, we all live in D.C. and we never see each other. We had to come to Austin to hang out.

That’s good. Austin’s a good place to hang out.

Austin is a good place. Let’s talk a little bit about Austin, and South by Southwest, and ACL, and the Texas Tribune Fest, the impact of those events on the growth of Austin, what Austin looks like. I know Washington, D.C. and many other cities are going through gentrification. I think Austin is as well. Are these events contributing in a positive way, for good or for bad? What is Austin doing these days?

Well, that is a great question and at least …

It’s layered. There are so many layers. It’s like an onion peeling away.

There are at least two layers there.

Austin is one of, if not the fastest growing city in the US over the last five years. Some, or a lot of that growth has been pushed by this festival economy, whether that be South by Southwest, ACL, again Texas Tribune Festival that was last weekend, people coming to this city for a few days, experiencing this city, enjoying this city, and deciding to relocate here.

In fact, it’s interesting that the South by Southwest big growth spike post-Twitter in many ways matches the beginning of the big growth spike in Austin post-Twitter. That’s the beginning of the Austin growth spike in the last 10 years, where we became one of the fastest growing cities in the US. Fastest growing means that when I was in high school or college, Austin was a city of 250,000. We’re easily a million now, with a 2 million metro area. That’s the positive side.

The slightly less positive side is that there are more and more features of a boom town in Austin, meaning a disparity, growing wealth disparity. That makes it harder for traditional neighborhoods in the city to exist how they did for many years. It also pushes out a lot of the creative community, whether those be musicians, visual artists, playwrights, writers, that type of thing who have made this city such a compelling place to live. That’s certainly one of the city’s moving forward.

Again, the yin and yang between the city and South by Southwest is very real. We have that same challenge at South by Southwest where we’ve gone from a event that’s very affordable to attend, and therefore attracted a younger, more creative audience, to an event that is not quite so affordable to attend, and harder for creatives to come to the event, and a little more geared towards CEOs.

There are no easy answers to these questions, to these problems of how do you stave off of that income disparity. I know we have a lot of strategies at South by Southwest to try to get younger audiences in, to try to reach out to communities that can’t otherwise afford to attend, how that works at a C level is even more complicated.

I just want to go back a little bit to the audience curation and the preserving access. What are some of the strategies you have in place now to get people in the door who … If you can dig a little deeper there.

Sure. The audience curation, trying to get more diverse communities into the event, we have been pretty successful over the last few years at working with a lot of stakeholders in the HBCU community, historically black colleges and universities, and gotten several groups coming into South by Southwest for that. We have significant attendee discounts, registration discounts for students, various other scholarship programs to try to get the kinds of people, micro target kinds of people who can’t otherwise attend the event. There’s still a long way to go there, but I think that what we’ve done is pretty compelling.

Do the UT students now stay in Austin for Spring Break? Do they spend their Spring Breaks here for South by Southwest? I think I would.

I think the bulk of UT students or a lot of UT students are still going away at Spring Break. But it’s also important to note that at any event like South by Southwest, like ComNet, you have hundreds and hundreds of volunteers. In our case, we’re probably 3,000 volunteers. They’re essentially running the show onsite, they are doing all of the directing of traffic, manning doors, that type of thing.

Somewhere between 20% and 30% of our volunteers come from UT, and ACC, and Huston–Tillotson for these volunteers, these student volunteers. It is great social opportunity. You meet lots of friends this way, add new friends this way. For a lot of them, it is also a calculated and strategic career move where they can …

I’m sure they meet lots of CEOs and …

They can meet CEOs.

… Hollywood celebrities.

They can attend sessions that will help them on their career path. It is, I think, a mutually beneficial relationship.

That’s a great opportunity. We have a little bit of time left, and I think we have a microphone, a mic runner in the audience if there are any questions for Hugh from the audience. Join the conversation with us. Please give your name and where you’re coming from.

Hayley: Hi, my name is Hayley, and I’m with Additive, a brand consulting firm. We do a lot of work with the city of Memphis, so I’ve definitely been following Austin quite a bit as it relates to South by Southwest. I am curious, you did touch on this in some ways in the conversation around accessibility and making sure all people can participate, but I am curious how you retain the authenticity of the festival as it’s scaled, and it’s gone from its roots in creatives to being more corporate. How do you protect, and preserve, and promote the authenticity of the festival as again, it does scale and grow?

Well, great question about trying to preserve the authenticity, I think that that is certainly one of the biggest challenges as we have been lucky enough to scale and grow. Yes, South by Southwest has gotten more corporate in a lot of ways, but there is still lots and lots of less corporate elements involved. I think the idea of taking most of the content from that community input through the Panel Picker is a strong way that we’ve retained that community tie. We also do a lot to try to break what is this very, very large event, down into a smaller, more intimate event.

I certainly am lucky enough to get invited to speak at events like this because of the scale of South by Southwest. That’s neat that we’ve been lucky enough to grow to where we are, but the truth of the matter is that quantity is the enemy of quality, and that the larger your event becomes, the harder it is to retain that authenticity.

I’m an equally big fan of events that are more intimate, that are smaller. I think that we all know or the most important thing that you get at an event, there can be lots of sessions with good information, and that’s great, but always more important is the connections you make, the networking connections you make, whether that’s at a party, whether that’s standing in line at Starbucks, whether that’s waiting for a cab, whether that’s in a hallway somewhere. Certainly, it is easier to make those connections at smaller type events within a large event.

We added a lot of meetups to South by Southwest over the last probably five years. It was something that I had always thought, “Well, we don’t need to do that. People can figure on their own how to meet their tribe or meet other tribes they want to meet.” I was dead wrong on that. Creating a structure where people feel safe with their tribe or feel safe to meet other tribes has been one of the big wins for us over the last few years.

Again, to your question, retaining that authenticity is incredibly hard to do. We certainly have plenty of critics who say that the event is too big and has become too corporate. At my end, I am satisfied that while the event is transitioned significantly over the 30 years, gone from this relatively small music event to an event that covers politicians and covers sports, food, all these different verticals that focus on creativity is still the through line between past, present, future, between all these different verticals that we cover.

Thank you. Do we have another question from the audience? Hi.


Marissa Kaiser: My name is Marissa Kaiser. I work at Casey Family Programs in Seattle, Washington.

The first question is where do you spend your time if you had the choice between all the tracks? Especially looking at 2020, and if you could pick a moment of time, where would you have liked to have been, in what room and where? I’ll reserve my second question until the answer.

That was the easy question or the hard question?

Marissa Kaiser: That was easy question.

Melanie Newman: I was thinking the same thing. Wow, that’s a great question.

The experience of an organizing event and probably of all organized events in the room is certainly different than attending an event. I will typically pop into a room, watch for two or three minutes, try to get the vibe, is it going well, then try to pop into the next room and realize we’ve got 30 or 40 different rooms going on.

The things that interest me most, I’m certainly very interested, intrigued by this space stuff that we’re doing. A lot of that is just because again, in a world that we have lost some degree of inspiration and aspiration over the last few years, that idea of reaching higher still has a lot of value to it. Think of this summer when we’re thinking about the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing, is a point in time that like it or not, we can say, “Well, that was really neat.”


I think that that’s what we’re shooting for on this space track. I’ll spend a lot of time there for 2020. It’s always as well, if I’ve recruited a particular speaker, it’s great to go pop in on their session and see how they’re doing, try to introduce myself, that type thing. But I get the potpourri version of the event.

Now to the difficult question.

Marissa Kaiser: We’re all communications professionals, and you’ve talked about the different life cycles of South by Southwest. There was a dot-com revolution, there was a social media revolution. I wanted to hear your take on especially in this day in age of social media, what is South by Southwest’s embrace of letting go in order to increase conversation? I think a lot of us work in philanthropy, and there’s a decent amount of holding tight to the message.

Can you give me more context on the letting go?

Marissa Kaiser: I worked for a communications consulting firm a decade ago, and I left because I wanted to work for a technology company who embraced social media because all of my nonprofit clients were shunning the opportunity because they wanted to stick with the press release and the press event to control the message. I know that’s certainly not the day and age we live in now, and South by Southwest has always seemed to me as an organization that has embraced this creativity, this innovation, and also this chaos.

That was the hard one, and you’ve got me completely stumped there.

Melanie Newman: I think when we talked in our pre-conversation, you talked a little bit about, and maybe I don’t want to mischaracterize your question, but you talked a little bit about the chaos that has come from social media, and the importance of creating space for the face to face conversations because people are looking for that. I think what you’re asking is about the letting go of something, of the technology that we had so desperately craved to bring us closer. Is that what you’re …

Marissa Kaiser: How does South by Southwest feel like it’s letting go of the message in order to create conversation, or was that your intention? You’ve done it inadvertently.


Thank you for the clarification and further context there. I think this is something we wrestle with, or I know this is something we wrestle with a lot. My strong belief is again that this power of community, that the community understands our event, and understands what is compelling in more ways sometimes than we do. There are other parts of the company who have equally strong and eloquent arguments that the community has one thing, but we need to better form what our message is, and get that narrative out there, as opposed to letting the community define us. That has certainly been some of where we’ve tripped up when the community is defining us and we’re to what you say, to let go of that message.

I think that again, the more we can emphasize that South by Southwest has a strong, strong focus on creativity, the better the outcomes we have. I think that that message about creativity is particularly important in terms of where we are in 2019 and 2020 as we enter more deeply into an age where more and more computers, algorithm, robots are doing more and more things. Creativity is what really makes us human, and what separates us from those machines and algorithms.

They can do a lot of really great things that we used to be able to do. We can still synthesize ideas, create new ideas by pulling together very, very different things. The fact that so much of South by Southwest is focused on creativity in a very creative city, I think that is a very strong message that we can push now and in the future, that can help guide us and can help tell our audience what to expect in Austin in March.

Melanie Newman: We are running out of time. I have one last question. It’s the very last question, I promise, 30 seconds, 30 seconds. Tell us a little bit about the power of storytelling and the space that is created at South by Southwest for storytelling. That’s not an easy question, but 30 seconds.

I think that storytelling, this is not quite as eloquent an answer as you want, but we are always amazed that most many of the most popular sessions are storytellers talking about their craft, and how that works, how they’re able to get a message out there. We have a track called Experiential Storytelling, which we use in new technology into that idea, but again, with the end of the day, we’re all storytellers in a way and again, it’s amazing how much that idea, that message, that concept aligns with our community.

Well, thank you so much for telling the story of South by Southwest.

Thank you.

Thank you all for listening to it, and coming to the session.


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