SXSW 2019: Take A Sip From The Fire Hydrant Of The Future

SXSW 2019: Take A Sip From The Fire Hydrant Of The Future

In this guest post, Channelzero’s head of strategy, Dan Machen (pictured below), is packing his bags for the annual SXSW love-in in Texas. Here, he predicts what he thinks will be 2019’s overriding themes…

Not long now till I head off to South by Southwest – the world’s largest creative, tech and innovation conference in Austin, Texas. With 1,000s of talks by famous speakers, getting your head round SXSW is like taking a sip from a fire hydrant. Along with heaps of kit chargers, IV drips and joggers, you have to go pre-armed with a view on content, or you won’t be able to see past the FOMO.


As the smoke starts to rise from Texas BBQs and this year’s festival, what does the future frontier have instore for marketing, brands and advertising? Are we going to see a course correction back to future optimism, or will the smoke of post digital distrust continue to cloud the debate?

Let me be your guide…

When he infamously ‘inhaled’ on the Joe Rogan Experience, Elon Musk (main photo) created the perfect visual metaphor for SXSW 2019 – involved as he is in open AI, transport and space. “Tech meets cannabusiness” has a heady whiff of key themes for SXSW 2019.

Taking the pulse of the ‘Panelpicker’ sessions is good way to get a lens on what’s bubbling up – as it’s voted for by the public it’s the most democratic reflection of the key areas of interest. And the nominees are… 


…is one of the words that has become more prevalent in our society in the last 24 months. Talks on this topic have more than doubled in submissions 2018 vs. 2019. While platforms seem to wrestle ineffectively with this issue, it’s increasingly front and centre as a govn., marketing and consumer concern.


Issues around privacy are linked to fake messaging. The word “privacy” has had a 289 per cent increase in talk submissions 2018 to 2019. This reflects how that continued use and abuse of personal data by brands and state actors should remain at the front of debate. (Much as Facebook wants it to go away.)


Given legit Cannabusiness is predicted to be worth $150m by 2025, we can’t ignore it. 2019 sees a ten-fold increase in talks on this topic. Given tech distractions drop your working IQ by 10 points – more than being stoned – perhaps there is an inevitable cross over in Austin.

The 2019 Panelpicker includes 379 proposals that include the term “AI” in the title – an increase of a third. AI remains a key topic as it enables the EQ of algorithms and automation. Given these are the future levers of automation for marketing, I’ll be looking at this closely.


Austin is all about dat WEIRD, so it would be remiss to ignore the rise of the robot. From science fiction to future science, fascination with our binary butlers is increasing in tandem with AI. 2019 sees a three-fold increase in talks on this topic.

I agree with Mark Ritson’s recent article that we have to move into a post digital perspective to realign on what we really want from the marketing opportunities dangled by algorithms, AI and automation. But to get this right, we need to take a proper look at how art meets science to manage marketing with machines and realign around the promise of a post-digital renaissance, less clouded by distrust.

Stay tuned to follow my findings…


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