South by Southwest Showfloor Gives Attendees Glimpse of Future

March 28, 2018

Robots sparring with light sabers, t-shirts printed on the spot for a good cause, genetic testing companies and lots and lots of AR and VR were just a few of the highlights at the South by Southwest (SXSW) main trade show that ran March 11-14 at the Austin (Texas) Convention Center.

This trade show actually was just one of many that ran during the two-week SXSW main event that drew together 70,000+ attendees in the interactive, film and music industries for parties, brand activations, sessions and keynotes.

TSNN touched base with Brittani Mathis, senior exhibitions manager, before SXSW kicked off to find out how many trade shows there really are at the overall event, as well as what was new this year?

TSNN: Tell us about all the trade shows running during SXSW.

Brittani Mathis: Our largest, the Trade Show, is a 4-day exhibition for the creative industries with more than 250 exhibitors. Some of our smallest exhibitions are 2-hour, tabletop Spotlights, that offer a chance for startups to their products and ideas to our registrants in a casual manner. We even oversee some non-traditional exhibitions, such as SouthBites, which features some of the best food trucks and craft food and beverage vendors from across the country. Overall, we have more than 1,000 exhibitors participating in our event this year.

TSNN: What's new this year?

Mathis: SXSW introduced the Wellness Expo, a consumer exhibition in support of our Health and Wellness programming track. It is one of our many events that is free and open to the public with SXSW Guest Pass ( We've also doubled the footprint for the highly-curated Virtual Cinema, so even more registrants have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the newest films from the augmented and virtual reality worlds. For the first year, SouthBites will feature Roasters Village, showcasing some of the most well-respected brands of the trending third wave coffee movement. In addition, SouthBites will host Austin's beloved Quesoff on Tuesday, March 13th which will feature Chef Aaron Franklin's brisket queso (Franklin BBQ) - an Austin delicacy! And finally, the Trade Show introduced the Discovery Stage for 2018 which will feature curated content from exhibitors covering topics pertaining to the creative industries. There's always ample opportunity to experience something new at SXSW each year.

TSNN: How important is it to have education offered on the showfloor?

Mathis: It's imperative to offer educational opportunities on each of our show floors, and many floor have more than one type. It's an added value to both our registrants and the exhibitors, and we believe it keeps attendees onsite and engaged for extended periods. We also believe it's important to diversify the programming on the floors. For instance, our Wellness Expo will feature the Wellness Stage featuring more formal solo presentations and panel conversations, a hands-on Demo Area allowing for more information and experimental engagements and an outdoor Fitness Stage offering free workouts of all types.

TSNN: What kind of interactive engagement can attendees expect on the showfloor?

Mathis: Virtual reality is a trending theme on our Trade Show floor this year so expect to see lots of engagement there. The SXSW EDU Playground is centered around hands-on learning opportunities from leading education companies in the industry. Flatstock 65 will feature the Flatstock Stage which allows consumers to engage with many of our international showcasing artists. The space typically remains at capacity for the 3 days of the exhibition.

TSNN: How many attendees do you expect?

Mathis: Here is a breakdown of some of our top shows (numbers based on 2017 attendance):

Trade Show - more than 70k

Gaming Expo - 45k

Wellness Expo: 8k

Job Market: 8k

Virtual Cinema: 10k

Flatstock + Marketplace: 10k

Learning Expo: 9k

TSNN: What is the size of the show in square footage and how has it evolved over the years?

Mathis: When I interned for SXSW in 2005, we had a single Trade Show with roughly 50 exhibitors in Ballroom D at the Austin Convention Center, with an estimated square footage of less than 20,000 square feet. We now produce more than 20 exhibitions over the 14 days of the event, spread across four separate venues, with square footage totaling more than 325,000 sq ft. Our exhibitions provide registrants the opportunity to engage with leading companies from across all of our many programming tracks.

TSNN: What do you think attendees will be most 'surprised by' at the show this year?

Mathis: I believe most attendees are surprised at the scope of our exhibitions (and our event as a whole). SXSW truly offers the best opportunity to network innovative leaders across creative industries.

TSNN: What are some of the fast-growing segments on the showfloor?

Mathis: Augmented and virtual reality, lifestyle tech, wellness, and international delegations. By and large our international government delegations are here supporting small to medium-sized companies that are seeking to expand their opportunities beyond their domestic or regional market. With attendees from over 90 countries, the SXSW Trade Show is an unparalleled opportunity for these companies to internationalize their business.

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