SXSW Sydney is already too big for its shell

For a brief period in Newtown, a few years ago, a baffling trend occurred where people were suddenly snaking down the street in an orderly line in order to buy what seemed to be a normal cup of normal gelato.

Gelato wasn’t new to Newtown; in fact this was during the peak gelato period (remember?), so there were half a dozen other gelato stores within strolling distance. But people weren’t lining up for those ones. So other people wondered what it was about this gelato that made people line up, and so they too lined up. The line kept growing.

This was very much the case at South by Southwest this week, the first time the geographically challenged festival has left its birthplace of Austin. It was a roaring success – in fact, the size of its success was its only downfall.

The majority of talks and roundtables were at capacity, crowds bottlenecked as people left and other people tried to enter, and punters were warned in email updates from various vendors to arrive early to avoid disappointment. People did so, to the extent that you really had to take a punt on leaving a talk some 20 minutes early to line up for another one that you may not even get into. It was a frustrating problem for some, but a great one for SXSW, and a clear sign that the already monster event will grow further next year. It’s already too big for its shell!

I overheard the following snippets from the crowded corridors of the ICC – “I flew from Melbourne and couldn’t get into either of them, so I don’t know what I’m doing here”; “one in, one out is such a bullshit system”, and “I don’t know what’s in there, but it’s Amazon and there’s been a long line all day”. 

Aside from the conferences themselves, the installations were often packed – I’m able to confirm the aforementioned Amazon Primeville (which had been Fratelli Fresh just last week) did, indeed, have a massive line, while Seven House was packed for most of the week.

I stepped into Seven House during a quieter moment (crowd-wise, I mean – on the music stage metres away, a DJ blasted club beats inappropriate for blinding midday sun) to check out the VR experience.

With its countless natural disasters, inordinate amount of parentless children, and a death rate roughly on par with a developing nation, Home and Away is realistic enough.

But the virtual reality Home and Away experience at Seven House was shockingly immersive. Guided by a suspiciously chipper Alf Stewart, you are welcomed to Summer Bay, with the ability to look around a fully 360 rendering of the little area in front of the Surf Club. VR technology is still rather nascent – there’s a definitive feeling of being on the end of the ledge – but Seven’s display was immersive and impressive. It also shows that Seven has the ability to film in this format – which opens up another avenue of experiment content for the network down the line.

Having said that, it’s not yet perfect: two of the characters (Ziggy and Dean for those playing at home) told Alf (and by extension myself) they were going for a surf, jogging down towards the waves; when I turned around moments later, they were paused at the border mid-strut, like video game characters frozen at the edge of the world.

There was also an SAS Australia experience on offer, but I declined, on the infinitesimal chance that by putting the goggles on, I would become Craig McLachlan.

The inaugural SXSW Sydney promised to be future-focused, and judging by the crowds and scores of disappointed people turned away at various doors, artificial intelligence is still a hot topic, close to a year after ChatGPT first debuted.

Most panels touched on it in some form – and attendees clearly couldn’t get enough. Or rather, clearly not enough attendees could get in. 

Is artificial intelligence a threat, an opportunity, or merely overhyped? The MiniDisc of our era? People aren’t sure, and they want to know. 

Even Channel Seven’s upfront, which saw the network present its future plans to over a thousand people at the ICC, had an artificial intelligence focus, with the launch of their AI audience prediction engines, which they claim will be able to predict what individually targeted 7plus viewers will be tuned into next week. 

It’s only creepy if you let it be.

Enjoy your weekend.

SXSW Sydney: News market big enough for new players ‘as long as the journalism is good enough’

SXSW Sydney: GroupM global CEO says ‘I don’t think advertising is very good today’

SXSW Sydney: Giving marketers ‘proof they need’ to invest in brands

SXSW Sydney: Rethink Everything and Kingfisher team for unique global campaign


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.