We talk to SXSW Interactive Director Hugh Forrest about expanding the brand with V2V.
Of the three arms of the South by Southwest Festival, it’s hard to best the tech-oriented Interactive Conference in terms of attendance (24,569 participants in 2012) and influence (Twitter and Foursquare both broke big at the fest). Every year, Interactive’s registration numbers rocket, but infrastructure – such as the number of hotel rooms available – can’t keep up.
So what happens when supply can’t meet demand? What happens is SXSW Interactive engineers a whole new event to take place in Las Vegas. Dubbed V2V, the four-day fest serves to both address massive demand for Interactive content and to expand the SXSW mission. If Vegas seems like an odd fit for an institution synonymous with Austin – and Austin growth – consider the Downtown Project, a $350 million revitalization effort funded by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, a SXSW alum, and devoted to the idea of turning Las Vegas into “the most community-focused large city in the world.” Community, innovation, smart growth – those are all Interactive buzzwords, no matter what state you’re in.
The Chronicle recently spoke with Hugh Forrest about the inaugural V2V event, which takes place Aug. 11-14 in Las Vegas.
Austin Chronicle: Have you crystallized the branding of V2V yet? How is it going to be different from the current SXSW Interactive festival?
Hugh Forrest: The most obvious difference is that it will be significantly smaller in size. It will have more of a focus on startups – proportionally more of a focus on startups than what we do at the current Interactive event. That said, I think we want to have a very inclusive approach to this concept, to the word startup – the idea being that there may be a degree of music and film programming content within the V2V event, and this idea that if you’re starting a new band or have launched a new film, that in many ways, your approach to that [is similar to the way] someone might approach a tech startup or some other startup.
Austin Chronicle: Are you working with the other SXSW heads at Music and Film to produce content?
Hugh Forrest: Yes. They’re in on meetings at this point. It’s a little premature at this point to say “produce content” because we haven’t really gotten in-depth on the panel selection or production phase. But yes, the idea is to try to bring a lot of what is unique about SXSW and Austin – which is this intermingling of the three events, this convergence, this feeling of creativity – and then bring them in a slightly smaller package to Las Vegas.
Austin Chronicle: You guys have obviously been working on this, planning this for months, but I’m curious about when that first kernel [of the idea] happened for you – when you looked around and realized that the way things were going was not sustainable anymore.
Hugh Forrest: [laughter]
Austin Chronicle: Or would you not use that word?
Hugh Forrest: I would not want to use that word. From the Interactive standpoint, we’ve had some very positive growth over the years. It’s fun to be part of that growth and to see that growth. As always, we hope that that growth means that we’re a lot better, not necessarily just bigger. But we are also certainly keenly aware that it’s harder and harder for people in 2013 to get a hotel room in Austin in March. This is going to change in 2015 when we have the JW Marriott and the Fairmont Downtown, but that’s still a couple years away. Again, we think there’s enough momentum in this space and enough interest in this space of what we’ve been lucky enough to create in Austin to power a second event in Las Vegas.
Austin Chronicle: Are you worried at all that this isn’t going to lessen the impact [and number] of attendees at Interactive, that instead it’s going to be create *two* awesome events that people are going to want to go to? Practically speaking, what does this mean? Are you going to be bringing down the number of registrants?
Hugh Forrest: I hope it’s going to turn out great, but it’s a whole new ballgame – that’s always a mystery. I think that we can bring a lot of skill and expertise to the Las Vegas venture. On the other hand, one of the reasons SXSW is where it’s at now is it that it was allowed to grow somewhat slowly and organically. We were afforded the luxury of making mistakes on a fairly small stage and then learning from those mistakes and growing after it, growing better. It’d be great if the Las Vegas thing draws a big crowd the first year but at the same time, I don’t want to grow that too fast. I’m very much a believer of the slow, organic growth idea as a way to figure out exactly what you’re doing. To the second part of your question, I think that the presence of a second event, a second South by Southwest in Las Vegas, may slow down the registration a little in January and February when people are just clicking on the SXSW website and realizing it’s going to be harder to find a flight now or to find lodging, and at that point, the Vegas option might be easier for them. But again, we don’t want to position or think of the Las Vegas event as in any way inferior to what we’re doing in Austin. We hope that they’re two quality events and that the momentum from one feeds the other and then the momentum from that other one feeds back into SXSXW.
Austin Chronicle: V2V. What’s the story behind the name?
Hugh Forrest: Well, the idea there is that it is somewhat of a meaningless term, but if you really want to think of a meaning there, it could be visionary to visionary, or voice to voice, or voice to visionary, or visionaries to Vegas. We like that it’s an open palette and will afford us some room to grow and develop into whatever this event becomes.
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