News & Views

SXSW 2015 / Preview

by Contagious Team

The digital and interactive industry’s annual schlep to Austin is taking place this week. The 800 sessions over SXSW Interactive's five days – full of wearables, AI, Internet of Things, content, Future Tech, health and alternative currencies – are enough to send even the most connected among us spiralling into a digital detox. 

To help ensure that you get the most out of your time spent queueing in the Convention Centre (and still leave a few minutes to pick up some of Texas’ finest BBQ and a Lone Star beer or two) we’ve put together a guide to Contagious’ picks of the festival’s panels, keynotes and more.

If you’d like to catch Contagious at SXSW (which we would strongly recommend), full details on where and when Nick Parish, editorial director, Americas, and Tara Hiberet, head of Contagious Singapore, will be speaking are here


11am / Big Data and AI Need Each Other & You Need Both
ACL Live, The Moody Theatre, 310 W 2nd St

Big Data and AI are slated to be two hot themes of this year’s SXSW, so why not get off to an early start? This panel, made up of investors, analysts and entrepreneurs, including Ganesh Bell, chief digital officer at General Electric and McKinsey's Maher Masri, discuss how to use AI to turn the swathes of data that most companies track but don’t make use of into a valuable business benefit. 

12.30pm / The Emperor’s New Wearables
JW Marriott Room 206 110 E 2nd St

This panel should conclude with the audience either trying to conceal their pre-release Apple Watches or brandish them with triumph. Experts including Fossil’s chief creative officer, Brandon Little, Intel’s director of wearables, Sandra Lopez, and Travis Bogard, VP at Jawbone, will look at how brands and the fashion industry are getting involved to make the wearables market more seamless and desirable for its users.

12.30pm / How to Disrupt Wall St: The Flash Boys Blueprint
JW Marriott Salon 5-6 110 E 2nd St

Brad Katsuyama, key protagonist in Michael Lewis' Flash Boys and CEO of stockmarket IEX, discusses his dissatisfaction with the culture of corruption that pervades the financial markets, and explains how he developed a solution that realigns trading around the needs of investors. Anyone looking for a lesson in the potential that data embedded in complex algorithms has to corrupt should drop by.

5pm / Brands: Connective Tissue Between People and Tech
Zilker Ballroom 3, Hyatt Regency Austin

Leo Burnett's global head of social and mobile James Kirkham and Contagious' North American editorial director Nick Parish will step into the immediate future to identify miraculous innovations that will quickly be brought into the mainstream by brands.

5pm / The Personal Side of Robots
Exhibit Hall 5, Austin Convention Centre

Cynthia Breazeal, founder and CEO of family friendly robot firm Jibo (and director of the Personal Robots Group at MIT) will cover the transformative possibilities of social robots, through learning, health, care and social connections. We're all ears, unless Terminator stops in.


9.30am / Netflix Shares a Decade of A/B Test Learning
JW Marriott Salon D 110 E 2nd St

Master of audience testing and using data to develop content that audiences lap up, à la House of Cards, Netflix's VP product innovation, Todd Yellin, runs through how the content platform's obsession with user behaviour has led to wins, as well as a few losses.   

3.30pm / Are Brands Sabotaging Their Own Content?
Hyatt Regency Austin Hill Country ABCD 208 Barton Springs Rd

This panel boasts representatives from Target, The New York TimesFederated Media and Team Detroit, discussing how to manage the highly disciplined and collaborative processes necessary to create branded content that rises to the top, rather than sinking without a trace.  


11am / Extreme Bionics: The End of Disability
Exhibit Hall 5, Austin Convention Centre

File this under the more mindblowing of the panels you're likely to see. Hugh Herr, co-director of the Center for Extreme Bionics at MIT Media Lab, is researching how to use technology to eliminate disability by making electromagnetic enhancements to our bodies. Body Hacking merges biology and technology, super-charging what humans are capable of and blurring the line between man and machine. 

12.30pm / Winning Over China's Wired Women
Ballroom E, Austin Convention Centre

Contagious' head of Asia Pacific, Tara Hirebet, joins Padmini Pandya, strategic business planning APAC, SapientNitro,
BBH Shanghai's Jonathan Koh and Evelina Lye, head of marketing Asia Pacific, SapientNitro, to discuss different demographics of Chinese women and how technology is shaping their diverse habits, desires and behaviours and how businesses can innovate and cater to these unique behaviours and needs. 

12.30pm / Designing for the Future of Transportation
JW Marriott, Salon 5-6

Catching a lift in a self-driving car is going to top the wish list of this year's SXSWi attendees. Tesla Motors' chief designer Franz von Holzhausen discusses designing cars that are setting new standards for design in the automotive industry. We're mainly interested in his take on where the auto industry is heading.

2pm / AI, Immortality and the Future of Selves 
Exhibit Hall 5, Austin Convention Centre

Sunday's keynote will see 
Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics and author of Virtually Human: The Promise – and Peril – of Digital Immortality dig into a full range of the potential and pitfalls of AI, robotics, space exploration, pharmaceuticals and xenotransplantation (whatever that is), and look at the implications these shifts will have for the mortals among us. 

3.30pm / Culture Clash: When Marketing and Product Converge
Hyatt Regency Austin, Hill Country ABCD

Nick Parish, Contagious' editorial director, Americas, joinsTyler Bahl, brand marketing lead, GoogleNathan Martin, CEO, Deeplocal and Ann Herrick, marketing director, Hallmark to have a frank conversation around how to create a culture of innovation within your organisation.


11.30am / An interview with YikYak’s founders
Ballroom A, Austin Convention Centre

Co-founders of the anonymous social media app YikYak, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, discuss their strategy and look at how the fascinating world of mobile messaging is evolving. 

12.30pm / Everything Eric Ries Has Learned Since 2011
Ballroom D, Austin Convention Centre

Tell us everything Eric! The author of The Lean Start Up shares his learnings on start-ups (obviously), non-profits, governments, massive corporations and heavily backed tech companies. Since the book was published he's been advising all kinds of firms now shares his learnings as well as theories around entrepreneurship and accountability.

12.30pm / Humazing Digital
Zilker Ballroom 2, Hyatt Regency Austin 

Experience designers take note: executives from Google, Man Made Music (sonic branding), Lippincott (brand strategy and design) and YouTube star, Charles Trippy, debate how to create experiences that inspire love, rather than a throwaway Like. 

2pm / Fixing Transportation with Humanity and Technology
Exhibit Hall 5, Austin Convention Centre

Lyft's CEO Logan Green on his inspiration for starting the ride sharing company. If you're interested in the sharing economy or engaging communities, Green's keynote should be worthwhile.

3.30pm / Lessons From Buzzfeed
Exhibit Hall 5, Austin Convention Centre

Buzzfeed's founder and CEO Jonah Peretti takes us through the global news and entertainment site's massive growth and shares the company's internal strategy. Hopefully in list format. With plenty of animal pics. And maybe a dress or two.

All Day / Bitcoin @ SXSW
Startup Village, Austin Grand Ballroom, Hilton Downtown

If alternate currencies are your thing, don't miss this session, spanning the Bitcoin basics right through to the impact alternate currencies could have in the wider world in the future.  


11am / New Earth: A Brand for the Year 2079
Zilker Ballroom 2, Hyatt Regency Austin

IDEO's senior design lead Nick Dupey and Life Sciences chief strategist Rodrigo Martinez take us through an imagined future environmental catastrophe and play with what that might mean for branding, synthetic biology and personal identity. 


If you made it to the end, congratulations! While you're at SXSWi, remember to learn a lot, make some new friends, attend Contagious talks, eat tacos and BBQ, and quaff a beverage or two. See you in Austin!