In Depth

SXSW a Hub for Online Video Networking

The South by Southwest Conference, which has become the networking event for the Internet TV business, kicked off in Austin, Texas, over the weekend, and anyone who’s anyone—or anyone who’s trying to be someone—in the online video world likely will turn up there.

The conference, also known as SXSW, has been best known as a launching pad for indie bands. But with its interactive portion, SXSW has tapped into the burgeoning area of Internet TV in the past few years.

Event organizers expect attendance for the interactive portion of the event to be up 40% from last year’s 6,483 attendees; that number was itself an increase of 40% from 2006.
Executives from Blip.TV, Next New Networks, On Networks, For Your Imagination and Revision3 will attend or speak at the event, while online talent including Veronica Belmont, Gary Vaynerchuk, Steve Garfield and Cali Lewis will be at the conference. The interactive portion runs through Tuesday.

They are going in order to network with other online video executives and stars, they said. Most attendees don’t expect to come home with a specific new deal or distribution partner in their pocket, but they do hope the parties and the water-cooler talk will lead to new work in time.

But don’t take the hard-sell approach at South by Southwest; that’s not cool, veterans say.

“The people who are the best at networking are never going with a specific agenda or deal to do,” said Alex Lindsay, the chief architect for San Francisco-based Pixel Corps, which produces online video shows. He will speak at the show. “They are going to meet lots of people and figuring out what to do next. The people who fail at networking are the ones trying to make a deal there.”

The show vibe is more low-key—think brainstorming with drink in hand.

“It’s kind of like the ultimate social event,” said Ms. Belmont, host of the popular Web show “Mahalo Daily.” She’ll speak on a panel and also perform with other female bloggers at a Next New Networks party. The catch? Her girl group will be performing a song to the video game Rock Band.

“It’s one of the few times of the year I can see all of my friends from online and talk about ideas for future topics and get to know each other in person as opposed to over text messages,” she said. “It’s mostly a chance for all of us to let our hair down.”

Steve Garfield, who started video blogging in 2004, has a similar mission. “I’m going to SXSW for the third year in a row to reconnect with friends that I only see at conferences. It’s like heading back to summer camp, although SXSW is a camp I like, as opposed to the YMCA camp my parents made me go to when I was little.”

While their goals may seem loosey-goosey, the video blogging world has been built on the concept of “link love.” To grow their traffic, bloggers must link to other bloggers and post comments on other sites. This cross-pollination strategy has played a large part in growing nearly every text and videoblog that’s popular today, so keeping in touch with other bloggers actually is a business strategy that can help grow a site’s visibility in the long run.

Some attendees have more concrete goals for the conference. Jane Hu is the business manager of Vuguru, Michael Eisner’s online production studio. She’ll be attending the show because Vuguru plans to launch its new Web series “The All for Nots” at the conference. The Web show focuses on a fictional indie rock band vying for success.

“When we made the decision to launch the show at SXSW it was kind of a no-brainer because it’s about an indie rock band,” Ms. Hu said.

Vuguru hopes to capture interest in the show from both the interactive press and the music press in attendance at the festival.

David Prager, one of the co-founders of Revision3, also will attend SXSW. He plans to look for new distribution partners, talk to potential advertisers and scout possible show hosts. “It’s a good place to pal around with the other creative types and come up with new ideas,” he said.