Creative & Tech

Dispatch from SXSW: The Need for Impactful Entertainment Experiences

March 15, 2017

We are living in a world where entertainment is omnipresent. Cable networks, streaming services, gaming devices and even social platforms are constantly vying for people’s attention. This continual bombardment of content makes it difficult for entertainment brands to break through and capture the attention of current and potential viewers. The scene at this year’s SXSW conference is a great example of the competition currently brewing within the entertainment industry, but it also presented marketers with innovative social-first solutions to stand out.

The sheer overabundance of content is posing a threat to the entertainment industry. Melanie Shreffler, senior insights director at Cassandra coined this threat as “Entertainment Debt.” The idea that people have so much content saved up in their queues that they fear falling behind on their shows and thus losing the social currency that knowing what happened on last night’s Girls episode provides.

There is an interesting dichotomy within the industry right now. On one side, we have highly personalized algorithms that deliver relevant content to the right viewer at the right time and on the other side, we have entertainment brands marketing using real-life experiences (events, physical experiences, etc.) that feed into the voyeuristic reasons viewers watch in the first place. While we are all guilty of taking our individual devices, and drowning in hours of our favorite television show, Shreffler said that these shared moments are the greatest missed opportunity for entertainment brands currently. If SXSW is any prediction of the industry’s future, there were plenty of physical activations that caught our attention.

  • AMC’s Los Pollos Hermanos Restaurant: To promote Season 3 of the Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul, AMC created this experience to play up the fact that the chain’s owner, Gus Fring, will have an appearance in Season 3. The repurposing of talent across series is a tactic that multiple networks are currently using and was mentioned by Amy Shelby, VP-Digital Marketing at CW. Shelby explained that familiar faces offer credibility to programming and encourage potential viewers to tune in.
  • Bravo’s Stripped: Using a nearly nude street team, Bravo promoted its new series, ‘Stripped,’ at SXSW. Over the course of two days, Bravo had models take the streets of Austin and educate SXSW attendees on the show’s premise. While the show’s values were embedded in the activation (vulnerability, DIY, humor, etc.) it was also an eye-catching experience that had attendees staring and wanting to learn more.
  • HBO: The Escape: HBO leveraged the current Escape Room trend and brought their fans into a completely immersive and socially shareable experience that presented three of their most popular shows, Veep, Silicon Valley and Game of Thrones. Each intricately decorated show set presented photography opportunities that were easily shareable on social, but the gamified experience also guaranteed time-spent within the activation, adding to its impact.
  • National Geographic’s Further Base Camp: NatGeo’s activation is exactly what SXSW attendees came to SXSW to see. Using augmented reality, holograms, and robotics, attendees were captivated by the technology present in the exhibit, but also completely submerged in cues from NatGeo’s upcoming scripted series, “Genius.”


Realistically, it is not always easy, feasible or necessary for entertainment brands to activate in a real-life setting. However, with a saturated entertainment landscape, immersive and breakthrough experiences are necessary to tap into those voyeuristic reasons viewers tune in. Below are three turnkey ways that entertainment brands can break through the clutter now:

  1. 360 Video: This is the closest digital replica of real-time experiences. In the panel “How Can We Make 360 Video Actually Compelling?” the panelists spoke to the importance of creating a sensory and emotive experience for viewers. As entertainment brands have access to hundreds of stories, thinking about which stories would lend themselves best (using sensory and emotion as a filter) to a 360 video experience should be at the top of marketers’ minds.
  1. Live Streaming: Live streaming is currently available across most social platforms. Its authenticity and alternate perspective of what viewers are seeing on-air add to the overall viewing experience. Ryan Spoon, Digital Product Manager at ESPN explained how the network uses Live Streaming to offer different perspectives of the same program. For example, for the NCAA college football championship ESPN used live streaming to allow viewers to feel what it is like to be in the middle of the student section or along the sidelines.
  1. Messenger Bots: Artificial Intelligence was a key theme across SXSW programming, but understanding how it came to play using Facebook Messenger helps us think about the current spaces that viewers inhabit and how digital marketers can leverage it. For entertainment, the key to a Messenger Bots success is conversational capabilities. Andrew Yaroshevsky of Chatfuel mentioned during his panel, “Facebook Messenger and the Rise of the Chatbot!,” that the Christian Grey Messenger Bot used to promote the movie Fifty Shades Darker wasn’t necessarily a smart use of AI, but it captivated the “50 Shades” fandom and added to Christian’s character development.

SXSW is the perfect marriage of technology and entertainment, but the line between these two audiences are greying as technology becomes more necessary to the entertainment industry. Whether it be how the films are made or how they are marketed, the common thread across SXSW programming I attended was how entertainment experiences can become more impactful for the viewer.