SXSW captures much of the media and tech world’s attention every year, but it’s still a once-a-year event that takes place in Austin–which means if you can’t get to Texas in March, you’re not a part of the festival. Now that’s something that the company behind SXSW aims to change with the launch of its new streaming platform and first entry into the original content marketplace, SXSW On.
Launching today, the free service debuts with two on-demand reality shows, as well as SXSW Live, which will start by running archival content, then during this year’s festival, feature 24-hour programming of SXSW events as they happen and reviewing each day. The channel launches on Roku devices in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, and Canada, as well as at SXSW.com and on YouTube.
Getting into the original content game is a big move. SXSW built its audience by providing a place for other people to show off their content, but as TED Talks have shown, web video can extend the reach of the brand far beyond the Texas border. SXSW Tech Director Scott Wilcox thinks that’ll only be a good thing for the company.
“We’re always going to be showcasing other content creators’ work as part of what we’re doing, but I think that here, we look at it as very complementary,” says Wilcox. “There’s an opportunity to create some more background on how these pieces get made. People seem to be very interested in the creative process in general. I think that we see the creation of this original content as being really in line with what SXSW has been featuring, and a complement to it.”
The hook Wilcox is building the service around is that “no matter where you are in the world, you’ll be able to tune into SXSW Live and you’ll be able to experience part of SXSW 2015.” But the live streaming of this year’s SXSW event is only part of the plan. The two reality-based shows that launch along with SXSW On are a music-meets-food series called The Nom Nom, in which musicians from around the country take the SXSW cameras to their favorite restaurants and bars in their hometown; and The Road, which highlights the day-to-day life of touring musicians. And that’s just the start of what Wilcox and SXSW hope the new platform could be.
“There’s really an opportunity here to create compelling, original content from the cultures that participate in SXSW events,” Wilcox says. “A lot of effort is spent showcasing the finished works, but we think that how these films are getting made, the life of a touring musician, how does food culture mix with musicians–there’s so much entertainment that focuses on performance and the finished end-product, but here we think there’s an opportunity for the behind-the-scenes making of creative products. So it’s really squarely aimed at the culture of SXSW, and we’re hoping to showcase and explore these creative processes as part of SXSW On.”
Wilcox says that the decision to keep the programming music-focused was a nod to the festival’s roots, but it’s not the limit of what the original programming could be. For instance, Wilcox says that bringing something like the SXSW Film Festival’s shorts program to SXSW On is “absolutely something [they’re] interested in exploring.”
“We’re putting a lot of energy into producing the physical event, and we felt like starting with music was great in the sense that that’s what we’ve been doing longest, but we’re certainly very interested in exploring things like the Film Shorts on SXSW On,” Wilcox says. “If it makes sense for the filmmaker, I think there’s a tremendous number of great short films, and we’re going to look at, in the future, how we might be able to help them find a larger audience through this outlet.”
The further development of the service as a content provider is unwritten, but Wilcox is careful not to rule out ideas like original scripted content in the future. “I feel like we’re just getting started, and we are talking about a lot of different things down the road. But also, that’s going to be guided a bit by the interest and the people that we’re attracting to our process here,” Wilcox says. “We would love to consider things like that in the future, but right now we’re getting this off the ground.”
For SXSW 2015, the service will bring keynotes, sessions, panels, Q&As, and performances to laptops and living rooms. The full lineup of who and what that’ll include is being worked out now, but Wilcox name-drops the indie rock band Spoon’s performance at the music festival as one that they’ve already arranged for, with a lot more to come. Combine that with the original on-demand content, and Wilcox is optimistic that SXSW On will fill both a need to engage people deeply during the festival, as well as a chance to stay connected to them after it’s over.
“We’ve been generating content from our events for a number of years and we’ve seen that, as interested in SXSW has grown, there are a lot of people who would like to be connected to the event who for one reason or another can’t make it to Austin,” Wilcox says. “We’ve seen as we’ve started streaming stuff just to the web in the past, that people are really engaged–they want to be a part of it while it’s happening. During SXSW you can read about it, you see the social media footprint, but if you’re not here, how do you be a part of that? So we really wanted to make sure with SXSW On we were able to do both.”