SXSW & CES: a Super Neato Event Recap

Posted by Kate Jurras on Mon, Mar 26, 2012

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held this year in Las Vegas, is the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow. South by Southwest (SXSW) held annually in Austin, Texas, is a series of film, interactive, and music festivals that has grown exponentially since it began in 1987. What do these shows have in common? They’re massively important to our industry, but the majority of us don’t have the resources or time to attend. Before you're get all frowny face about this, we have good news: it IS possible to learn from these events remotely! Thursday’s panelists broke down why, how, and what we can learn from CES and SXSW – without leaving our desks.

David Shing, Digital Prophet, AOL moderated a panel of experts: Steve Brennan, Senior Vice President, Technology & Production, Digital Influence Group; Mike Schneider, Senior Vice President, Director Digital Incubator, Allen & Gerritsen; Jim Barry, Spokesman at CEA and Owner, JMBarry; and Adam Kasper, EVP, Digital Investments, HAVAS Digital.


CES is all about platforms. It seeks to answer the question: what can you build? In the mid-90s, the show grew to reflect the digital revolution, and this year was all about how devices are interacting with each other. Consumers want to switch easily from TV, to phone, to tablet, to office computer without missing a beat. This is intriguing from a marketing perspective, because consumers do not differentiate between screens to the same level that marketers do.

The show this year didn’t highlight anything huge and game-changing, but several things stood out. In the coming year, here is what you should keep an eye on:

  • OLED TVs
  • Very thin digital products
  • TVs that combine your screens
  • Gesturing apps

Television has always been prominent at CES – having been the dominating force in consumer electronics (that is, until smartphones took over in the past 18 months) and this year was no exception. A pervasive theme this year was connective (“smart") TV. Companies are making products that integrate with your television – placing everything you want in one place. The integration of gesturing apps was big, but left much room for advancements. We can expect to see a lot of change in this space over the coming year.


SXSW appeals to a young, cool, social crowd. But it can be expensive, and it’s certainly overwhelming. The good news is, paying attention to the content remotely (you know, from your desk in Boston) can help you filter out the clutter, and with so much social content streaming continuously, it’s easy to know exactly what’s going on in Austin. You don't have to be at SXSW to be a SXSW expert.

Much like at CES, there wasn’t one big thing dominating at SXSW this year; no Foursquare of 2012. Social apps for people discovery (like Highlight, Glancee, and Banjo) were prominent, but they were overhyped, and can likely be dismissed for their inability to mesh with real life outside of the event.

SXSW offers an unparalleled opportunity for you to have conversations with people you wouldn’t meet anywhere else. This might be the most valuable part of the conference. In fact, the panelists agreed that conversations are more important than panels at SXSW. If you couldn't be there in person, this probably sounds like bad news. Don't worry - it's not! Many of these conversations have been uploaded, and you can watch them – without having to be there to engage. Check out the resources below to find some of these interviews, and more goodies.

Key Takeaways

  • Focus on leading-edge technologies that will have an impact on future products (think: gesture control and VR/AIs like Siri).
  • Dig in to the new technologies, and pay attention to the companies who are talking about them and launching them. You don’t have to be present at the events to find out who had a presence.
  • Focus on strategies that cross multiple platforms with the same content.


  • TWICE (This Week In Consumer Electronics) is an excellent resource – find consumer electronics coverage year-round!
  • Be wary of the next new thing. If there are 100 new apps doing something similar (like the SoLoMo apps at SXSW) it’s probably a lot of hype. Fragmentation of audiences and platforms is not a marketer's friend.
  • Brands as Patterns stood out for panelist Steve Brennan as one of the best sessions at SXSW. Weren’t there? Don’t worry! The presentation was based off of a Methods 10x10 white paper, and you can find it here! well worth a read.
  • Check out “Brand as Context in Interaction Design
  • Find TONS of SXSW recaps here!
  • Turbo Todd Watson of IBM interviewed tons of smart people over the course of SXSW, and you can watch the great interviews to feel like you were there.
  • SXSW has a little-known archive section with tons of session podcasts and a few videos. This is a great resource!