- SXSW 2023 Day 5: Brand Science - 15. March 2023
- SXSW 2023 Day 4: Thinking about the future - 14. March 2023
- SXSW 2023 Day 3: The Ketchup is out of the Bottle - 13. March 2023
- SXSW 2023 Day 2: Convergence points - 12. March 2023
- SXSW 2023 Day 1: The Importance of Storytelling - 11. March 2023
- DLD MUNICH 2023 - 20. January 2023
- Outlook: cloudy. Does the future of video games lie in streaming? - 8. August 2019
One particularly enjoyable aspect of SXSW conference is the immense diversity of topics covered in its program. Technology, business, marketing, design, entertainment, healthcare, politics, psychedelic drugs – there’s a lot of everything. Things get even more enjoyable, when you realize that despite the often fundamentally different backgrounds of speakers and industries, certain challenges are the same. Today was one of those days, and it has a lot to do with Ketchup.
Learning to speak machine
Technologist and designer John Maeda is Vice President of Design and Artificial Intelligence at Microsoft and a regular on the SXSW stage ever since he released his first Design in Tech Report in 2015.
Today’s talk was about system design and artificial intelligence and Large Language Models (LLM) in particular. While Maeda is a really engaging and entertaining speaker, his presentations can be difficult to follow, as he rapidly jumps between slides with lots of information, personal anecdotes and colorful analogies to share his thoughts with the audience. And he has a lot of them.
One comparison really hit home with me – we are at a certain “Ketchup Bottle Moment” when it comes to Artificial Intelligence. Maeda compared the sudden influx of AI tools at our disposal as comparable to the old issue with glass ketchup bottles. You open them, you shake, you prod with knives and spoons and only get very little ketchup and some water out of them. But you really don’t want to eat your fries without ketchup, so you shake some more and then suddenly there’s way too much on the plate, as it all came out at once. AI has been lauded about the next big thing in technology for nearly two decades and 2023 seems to be this ketchup bottle moment. We will have to learn what to do with the abundance of AI models and tools now.
A second analogy was treating AI models as building materials. Design isn’t really about the design itself, it is about the materials you select to get the job done – some better suited than others, but it requires a good, fundamental understanding to do that. System designers reached this point now with AI: the pre-trained foundation models of today are new materials and will help us design different things than the ones we know. But to actually get good results, we will have to learn a lot more about context and cognition when building these systems. In Maeda’s words: Designers will have to learn to speak machine to interact with AI tools – prompting is about more than getting the job done and really good prompting not only adds context and provides instructions for the model on how to solve a task, it also keeps efficiency in mind to lower computing costs.
The need to change business culture
Today’s keynote session featured Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert in an interview with journalist Katie Couric. Gellert shared insights on Patagonia’s recent restructuring around the transfer of ownership from the Chouinard family to the Patagonia Purpose Trust – with the stated goal of using the profits of the business to combat climate change and protect nature while protecting the integrity of the company. When asked about how this affected daily operations and management of the business, Gellert said very little had changed as the company was still operating under the same set of values, a commitment to radical transparency and honesty.
One central message of the interview was, that businesses, especially in the sectors of fossile fuels, agriculture and clothing, are amongst the worst polluters on the planet and responsible for many of the problems we currently face with climate change. So it is their responsibility to clean up the mess they created. Quoting Gellert: “Business leaders will do the right thing, after they exhausted every other option.” Basically, the solution is to create another ketchup bottle moment.
A central role to keep up the pressure in this regard falls to consumers, according to Gellert. He encouraged consumers and employees to be very cynical and critical of every company’s messaging around sustainability to keep up the pressure, especially through social media. In addition, he wants Patagonia to be on the forefront of changing the business mindset overall – maximizing shareholder value should and must no longer be the number one priority.
Some TikTok creators need to take several seats
With hundreds of sessions to chose from, you can’t only pick winners – my last session for Sunday was proof of that. It featured TikTok creator Robyn DelMonte aka “Girlbosstown” alongside UTA Digital Talent agent Scarlett Perlman. The pair shared insights on how brands should work with TikTok creators to address Gen-Z. While none of the insights were wrong (in fact they were all absolutely right), we might have reached a point where certain creators need to reevaluate their own self-assigned importance. Any brand strategist worth their dime knows that humanizing your brand, understanding your audience, being authentic, utilizing trends in a smart way, and co-creation of campaigns are the key to success on TikTok. In fact, even ChatGPT probably will tell you exactly this, so when getting on a SXSW stage you should bring more than that and not act like you invented TikTok marketing in your living room and as if you were “changing the digital landscape” (that’s a direct quote) on your own.
What I enjoyed though, was treating TikTok as the internet’s inside joke. I’ll gladly steal that analogy for future reference and probably act like I came up with it myself on the couch in our Austin AirBnB while writing this recap.
It’s the end of the media world as we know it
Media, as many other areas like entertainment and content, needs fundamental rethinking – that’s a fact. Every brand wants to be present on the same media platforms, every brand fights about the same dollar, every brand wants to be the #1 subscription service. You don’t need to be a media pro to realize that this is not a sustainable model for the future. Ideally, there would be a one size fits all blueprint, but in reality no big tech media can figure out their own business model anymore. In today’s session, Evan Shapiro, creator of the “Media Map” which tracks the massive changes in the world of media, talked to Steven Rosenbaum about the big drivers of change for the next decade.
In the last couple years we already experienced quite a hefty generational shift. When before, boomers and Gen-X ruled the world, it’s now Millennials and especially Gen-Z and Gen-A who took over the steering wheel. Young folks grew up in a global polycrisis while having the highest rates of anxiety and depression of all time – therefore when making decisions, they’ll be making them completely different. We’ll see a drastic shift of consuming content online, as they’re not going to be chill about giving their personal data away for free. Bad news for media. At the same time, they’ll gladly pay for media and content they love. Good news for media.
Going forward, winners will be those companies who can cater to both age groups at the same time and find the right mix of having single unit sales in form of ads as well as recurring revenue models like subscriptions. Between the two, this should not be a battle, but rather a balance. Many big tech providers are struggling with that: Meta almost completely relies on ads while Netflix does the same thing but for subscriptions (and yes, this already counts in their ad-based model as well). It’s not enough to get consumers in the door. The real challenge is to keep them inside and entertain them every single day. Ending subscriptions after binge-watching blockbuster series is the new normal, the new channel switching on TV. Consumers aren’t loyal to providers but take power into their own hands. Will this lead to a superapp ecosystem? Future will tell.
Recent numbers are showing another big media change: Ad spend has gone down significantly in some sectors like retail or auto – and even though this money will come back, companies will look for other ways to advertise their products and services. Instead of the good old ads they’re doing for years, companies look out for more performance focused media. According to Shapiro, media has always been about ultimately selling your stuff. Even though Netflix doing PreRolls like it’s 1999 is kind of adorable, impression based ad campaigns are out. From machine learning targeting options to influencer marketing based on sold units: Performance media will be the metric of the next decade.
The Future of Play
Sunday was also the kick-off for the game industry track, with more to come in the next few days. One of the first sessions today brought together some of the most influential people in gaming, like game developer Paul Bettner and Nate Mitchell, co-founder of Oculus. While gaming is already one of the most important entertainment industries, there’s still room to grow if games become even more accessible and broadly available for everyone. It’s about redefining the definition of „the gamer“. From „hardcore games“ like Elden Ring (which is just really hard to play and defeat) finding mainstream success, the rise of mobile platform games to game titles emerging as a huge spectator sport that attract more viewers than big traditional sport events. Everyone can be a gamer in their own way and how they want to be. When meeting new people, do you ask them if they are movie-goers? Probably not. So why are we still asking the question „are you a gamer“? The pandemic already showed that video games are the new schoolyard where people hang out with their friends. This is not only true for kids, but also adults who create meaningful friendships over Discord or Twitter. This convergence of gaming and social will change the way we interact not only with games themselves, but also publishers, game developers and content creators in a major way.
Random observations from day 3:
- Goodbye Rainey Street. The historic street, once home to many old bungalow style houses turned bars & nightlife spots slowly but surely loses its iconic face, with more and more soulless apartment towers replacing the old buildings. Another major downside of Austin’s ever increasing popularity.
- If you ever wondered why the lamp posts, telephone poles and columns around the convention center are wrapped in plastic – it’s because there’s a constant sticker & flyer battle going on. Dating apps, NFT projects, concerts, events, brand activations, viral campaigns – the high-traffic spaces are popular for advertising whatever you currently want to promote.
- An equally fascinating amalgamation of weird things, that don’t really fit well together: The Creative Entertainment Expo. Showcases of very niche tech prototypes, often from Japanese companies, live next to the business and investment development booths of various countries, airlines, mobility providers, software companies, and the CIA of all things.
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