SXSW 2016: Spafaxians Talk Trends, Connections and Discoveries

By March 29th, 2016

Industry leaders in music, film and interactive media converged in Austin, Texas this month for the city’s annual SXSW Conference and Festival. Known as the event to attend for creative industries, the 10-day extravaganza attracted everyone from digital marketers to music entrepreneurs and this year’s 30th edition didn’t disappoint with SXSW Interactive Keynote President Barack Obama, a life-sized TIE fighter and a Bowie-inspired performance from rock legend Iggy Pop.

Spafaxians Kristina Velan, Matthew Fox, Jonathan Gilbert, Venus Stojsic and Line Atallah were on site for the various exhibits and sessions and gave us an inside scoop on their SXSW highlights.

What brings you to SXSW this year?

Kristina Velan Digital Editor APEX Media

Kristina Velan | Digital Editor | APEX Media

I was in Austin on behalf of APEX Media, to test out Gogo’s 2Ku Wi-Fi onboard its Boeing 737 test lab named Jimmy Ray (after one of Gogo’s founders).


Matthew Fox Digital Editor Air Canada MediaMatthew Fox | Digital Editor | Air Canada Media

I attended SXSW 2016 to absorb everything I could about the latest and greatest developments in content marketing and social media communication from the world’s top brands.


Jonathan Gilbert Director Digital Content EMEAJonathan Gilbert | Director | Digital Content EMEA

I’m looking for new products and innovations that could add ancillary revenue, create a better customer journey, and increase loyalty for airlines and luxury brands. I’m also looking to stay on top of key trends in the content and marketing industries, and SXSW is a great place to do that in a very short space of time.

“Spafax itself is like a mini SXSW – working at the crossroads of entertainment, marketing, digital, branding and media sales.” – Jonathan

Venus headshot_blackwhiteVenus Stojsic | Audio Programmer and Producer

I was on a panel called “Travel Radio: Flight, Hotel and Cruise Soundtracks.” One of the promo companies we work with wanted to focus on the ‘travel continuum’ and get the audience thinking about who puts the music on, and how the music gets there.

Line_black and white1Line Atallah | Head of Digital | Spafax Canada

Attending SXSW has always been on my list “Top things I need to do before I die”. Every year, I obsessively followed SXSW attendees on social media. I used to spend hours trying to figure out what the dominating themes were, what new technologies are out there, what people are talking about, etc. Personally, I went first and foremost to be inspired, get the pulse of the industry, learn, play and harness my creativity.

What was the coolest thing you saw at SXSW? 

Matthew: I was introduced to a personalized drone device that has the capacity of following people as they ski, sail, hike or do anything in the open air. It’s called Lily, and its a great way for travelers to capture memories in a unique way.

Venus: Weird, but still very cool! They were old-school stage projections at a Hotel Vegas show. Three artists took some food coloring, oil and alcohol and poured it onto some clear glass plates. They manipulated the colours as they shined a light through and projection onto the stage backdrop. It was really psychedelic and responsive to the artists’ whims.I’ve never seen that before.

Line: Funnily, the coolest thing I saw was not related to technology. It’s a very light weight portable collapsible computer chair from Focal that fits in a purse. I tried it, it’s surprisingly comfortable.

Did you attend any sessions? If so, any highlights?

Kristina: If you count an information session from Gogo’s engineers on how in-flight Wi-Fi works, then yes! I learned about beam switching: when the Wi-Fi signal switches between satellites on long-haul flights. While a cell phone signal jumps between towers instantaneously, it can take the in-flight Wi-Fi signal up to a minute to reach the next satellite.

Jonathan: In an event otherwise enamoured with building world-leading brands, accelerators, venture capitalism and IPOs, it was refreshing to hear the voice of reason come from an economist, Douglas Rushkoff. He argued that digital technology puts our slavish obsession with growth economics on steroids. So, the technology company’s obsessive search to ‘solve problems’ usually hides a goal no greater than to reach a big fat IPO – meanwhile hoovering the value out of communities to the point of implosion, before pivoting to new markets, ready to do the same.

“I was relieved to hear that there is an effort to simplify the music acquisition and licensing process.” – Venus

Matthew: I attended dozens of sessions, including a great Q&A with Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, who revealed how he plans to revolutionize online search. Multiple sessions touched on the rise of intimate, one-on-one exchanges – like Snapchat and instant messaging – as the future of social media communication.

Venus: I was relieved to hear that there is an effort for different organizations in North America, as well as some internationally, to simplify the music acquisition and licensing process. There seems to be more interest than ever to create “synergies.”

Best networking connection(s) made? 

Kristina: LoungeBuddy CEO, Tyler Dikman, was one of the other passengers onboard Jimmy Ray. Earlier in the day, he participated in a SXSW Interactive panel called “Nonstop Connectivity: Striving for Ubiquity” alongside Gogo CCO Ash ElDifrawi and TripAdvisor CMO Barbara Messing. According to him, the expectation that connectivity will be available at every step of the journey is growing: “Wi-Fi is no longer a want to have, it’s a must-have.”

Jonathan: Plenty of them and you may see some of these connections evolve into new Spafax products. For that reason, I’ll keep the lid on it for now!

Line: I met quite a few agency leaders and we had great conversations about where the industry is going and challenges they’re facing with their clients and teams. I also met very interesting vendors that I already contacted and we’ll be working together on a few projects in the future. But the best connection made was definitely Jonathan Gilbert, Digital Director and colleague at Spafax London who I’ve never had the chance to meet before. Spafaxians are the best!

Three words that best describe your experience at SXSW this year. 

Kristina: Educational. Batty. Fly.

Jonathan: Over. Too. Quickly.

Matthew: Informative. Vibrant. Exhausting.

Venus: Exhilarating. Sensational. And an honour!

Line: Inspiring. Eye-opening. Fun, Fun, Fun.