‘Westworld’ Comes To Life At SXSW With Experiential Theme Park

HBO is marking the second season of the series Westworld with an experiential marketing activation at SXSW with over two acres of custom-built land that somewhat doubles as a theme park, maze and immersive theater.

Brands that venture to SXSW usually opt to take over popular venues in downtown Austin to market the masses, but HBO took it one step further this year with its installation by taking a two-step into the outskirts of Texas and building an entire town from the ground up about 20 minutes outside of the city. The experience is filled with Easter eggs designed to promote the show’s second-season, scheduled to premiere on April 22.

For the unaware, Westworld is a dark-odyssey show where rich vacationers are invited to a futuristic park to live in sin and without limits.

For SXSW, HBO conveyed an immersive experience about a show that itself is an immersive experience by recreating sets like The Coronado hotel and Mariposa Saloon and brought interactive actors to engage attendees as they explored the elements and hunted for clues for what might play out on TV next month.

HBO recruited 60 actors, six stunt people and five bands from the Austin area to bring Westworld to life.

Steven Cardwell, HBO’s director of program marketing and strategy, said SXSW served as a natural extension for the show’s marketing plan because the network had already served consumers with theatrical experiences and appetizers at San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con last year. There was even a hidden URL in the Westworld Super Bowl commercial that kick-started registration for the SXSW experience.

“There is a lot of fertile ground with Westworld,” Cardwell told AListDaily. “The universe of the show makes it a marketer’s dream to further build it out and engage fans. We’re going beyond the impression of a traditional advertisement at SXSW. It’s about creating a true experience that brings impact and buzz for us.”

HBO also partnered with eight co-branded Lyft cars and a special SXSW code that unlocks free rides that transport fans to the park each day the activation will be running till Sunday. There is also a Delta flight shuttle that brings guests to the park throughout the weekend. The network’s marketing plan included outdoor media and a 30-second TV spot that will be airing on local networks and invite people to visit Westworld.

Cardwell said “it was an investment well worth the price,” but couldn’t comment on how much HBO spent building the massive experience, which first started in November. 

“There is a lot of noise at SXSW, but we know that demand is there for the show,” Cardwell said. “We sold out of tickets in two minutes. We’re in our tune-in window right now, so it’s great to see that.”

Brian Duggan, founder of Building Alliances and an event strategist who was one of the hundreds of attendees that made the trek to Westworld for the opening preview on Friday night, said that as a fan of the show, the activation really gave him a feel for what it might be like to actually go to the theme park—even without the explicit sex and violence.

“I especially like how many mysteries and storylines were going on at once through their large-scale interactive theater experience, and the opportunity that offered for fans to really engage with these characters,” Dugan said.

McDonald’s Inverted Logo Stood For ‘Women,’ But Critics Demand ‘Wages’

McDonald’s flipped its golden arches to stand for the “W” in “women” on Thursday, a gesture of appreciation for its female employees. While some applauded the move, others used the opportunity to demand the quick service restaurant provide a living wage to its employees.

The McDonald’s restaurant in Lynwood, California, turned its golden arches upside down in honor of International Women’s Day. The gesture was made by franchisee Patricia Williams, who owns 18 McDonald’s restaurants alongside her two daughters.


Williams’ story and logo inversion are part of a bigger campaign around International Women’s Day. McDonald’s has flipped its logo across all digital channels, and 100 restaurants will have special packaging, crew shirts and hats and bag stuffers as part of a nationwide effort.

In a prepared statement, McDonald’s Global Chief Diversity Officer Wendy Lewis said the move was to “honor the extraordinary accomplishments of women everywhere, and especially in our restaurants.”

The restaurant brand claims that six out of 10 managers in their employ are female.

While some appreciated the gesture, many others did not, calling the restaurant’s efforts “McFeminism”—a term that refers to the hollow efforts of a corporation to appeal to women. The quick service restaurant has long been under fire for paying its employees minimum wage, a fact that many consider counter-intuitive to helping women. Workers have demanded a living wage—equal to the basic cost of living expenses plus an “acceptable” comfort level, a relative term the definition of which is often up for debate.


“This empty McFeminism has nothing to do with women’s liberation and everything to do with McDonald’s attempt to sanitize its image,” Laura Parker, national coordination for British left-wing group Momentum, said in a video response. “If they actually cared about women, they’d pay their workers a living wage and stop forcing them onto zero-hours contracts.”

Brands across the country took to social media with shoutouts to their female employees or characters from fictional heroes across TV, film and video games to real-life public figures, like video game developers and NASA’s crack team of women scientists.

In the marketing world, Creative Equals—a non-profit organization that champions diversity in creative industries—released a campaign that reimagines famous logos as women. Gender-bending iterations include Green Giant, DreamWorks, BAFTA and Bic.

Just 11.5 percent of design directors are women, and that goes for 14 percent of creative directors, Creative Equals says, explaining why so many famous brand icons are male.

International Women’s Day sparks discussion about equality and gender identity this week as hundreds of thousands of professionals head to SXSW in Austin, Texas. The holiday comes during a turbulent time of #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that empower women across film and other industries against sexual harassment and assault. As women members of the film industry flock to Austin this week for SXSW, there will plenty of panels and events to educate and empower.

For those readers in attendance, John Hardy is hosting a party to celebrate the holiday at the Four Seasons Terrace March 11.

Horror Show Premieres Put Video Game Engagements To The Test

While both AMC’s The Walking Dead and Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead feature plenty of gore, they couldn’t be more different—and their approaches to promoting their respective February premieres reflect that.

AMC leveraged its longstanding relationship with Next Games, makers of The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land, to create a digital campaign called “Playtime with Jesus” that simultaneously draws attention to both the show and the mobile game. The goal is to engage audiences with the Walking Dead brand as more of a whole instead of its individual components. Meanwhile, Lionsgate, which purchased Starz in 2016, debuted an esports jersey sponsorship where Overwatch League team LA Valiant wore Ash vs. Evil Dead logos during competitions.

Clayton Neuman, VP of games and entertainment applications at AMC, told AListDaily the company shifted to a “Live + 365” approach to programming several years ago. That means that the company isn’t just engaging fans while the zombie-themed show is airing, but throughout the year using amusement park attractions, merchandise, video games and more. Therefore, No Man’s Land, which offers continuous interaction, provides a valuable opportunity to keep fans hooked.

This engagement includes “Playtime with Jesus,” a digital video series hosted on multiple platforms and shown during the mid-season premiere’s commercials. Neuman said AMC views the digital series as more than just an ad campaign, but as engaging content in and of itself, and it seems to have been a successful activation.

Data provided by social media analytics firm NetBase shows the video series, created in partnership with Next Games, netted millions of views across multiple platforms with hundreds of thousands of views on any given video. But NetBase product marketing manager Elvis Lieban also noted the Demolition Ranch YouTube channel’s Walking Dead sponsored video from December still holds the record for most views.

The videos, which have the actors demonstrating different aspects of No Man’s Land, feature the game more prominently than the show, but Neuman explains that players and viewers aren’t mutually exclusive audiences.

“We’re always trying to attract more players to the game, but that’s in service of giving our fans engaging content that they can enjoy throughout the year,” he said. “We feel these videos are so entertaining in their own right that our fans will not only seek out the full series to watch, they’ll be eager to check out the game afterwards. When they do, we’re confident they’ll find a great new way to explore the world of The Walking Dead.”

But franchise engagement doesn’t always mean higher ratings. Nielsen Live+Same Day data revealed that the season 8 mid-season premiere drew the lowest ratings in the show’s history. Netbase’s findings on social media tell a similar story, showing that the premiere generated 581,852 mentions. Comparatively, the season 8 premiere in October had 689,957 mentions. Still, The Walking Dead remains AMC’s top-rated show even with the apparent decline in viewership, and there were almost twice as many positive mentions than negative ones for the mid-season premiere.

AMC will continue to work closely with Next Games to ensure that No Man’s Land authentically represents the show by sharing marketing materials, scripts and photos with the developer. At the start of season 7, the game introduced special missions based on each night’s episode, which both engaged fans and incentivized players to tune in to live broadcasts.

“It’s important that the official game and the TV show go hand-in-hand,” said Saara Bergström, CMO at Next Games. “At the end of the day, the game is a great way for the show fans to engage with the franchise on a daily basis, and our job is to make sure we deliver on the promise of authenticity and stay true to the show.”

Lionsgate became an investor in the Immortals esports franchise last year and created LA Valiant from it to compete in the Overwatch League. The jersey sponsorship marks one of the first tests of how well the Overwatch League, which officially launched in January, generates awareness for its television shows. Ash vs. Evil Dead will be LA Valiant’s exclusive jersey sponsor through at least Stage Two of the inaugural season, and part of the deal includes giving fans access to Evil Dead experiences, such as exclusive showings at Lionsgate’s screening room in Santa Monica, followed by an Overwatch League watch party.

Esports fans are also given opportunities to interact with the show’s creators and meet members of the cast. Actors Ray Santiago (who plays Pablo Bolivar), Dana DeLorenzo (Kelly Maxwell) and Arielle Carver-O’Neill (Brandy Barr) attended a recent match and took pictures with the team and fans.

Daniel Engelhardt, vice president of Lionsgate Interactive Ventures and Games, told AListDaily the sponsorship wasn’t just about sticking a name or brand on a jersey. In addition to the Overwatch League’s high viewership, which pulled in over 10 million viewers in its opening week, the esports league is an important channel for the show because of its infrastructure, which is modeled after traditional sports franchises.

“One of the big things that attracted us to the [LA Valiant] franchise was their senior leadership’s team focus on high-quality storytelling and engagement with their community,” Engelhardt said. “They saw the Ash vs. Evil Dead partnership as a big win for both sides from that perspective. We get the chance to introduce this Starz franchise to their highly engaged community and Valiant gets the chance to offer unique experiences to their fans.”

According to Engelhardt, esports is the ideal way to engage with the show’s audience because a large percentage of viewers are “cord nevers,” meaning that they watch content online without having watched linear broadcast television. Starz has put increased emphasis on watching through its app and digital content partners in recent months, and Lionsgate felt that Evil Dead‘s combination gore and slapstick humor would resonate well with the audience.

“The series appeals to the same type of audience that engages with esports—the humor, the action, and of course, Bruce Campbell,” Engelhardt said, referring to the show’s main star. “Multiple generations of gamers are fans of Bruce, so we felt that in doing this sponsorship, we would be bringing Valiant fans content that they could get excited about and be proud to see on their team’s jersey.”

Although Engelhardt stated the sponsorship was positively received by fans, that enthusiasm didn’t necessarily translate into ratings. Nielsen data indicates that viewership is declining, which is a continuing trend from season 2. However, as more viewers switch to watching online and may prefer binge watching the season at its conclusion, judging the show’s success and whether the sponsorship has a measurable effect can be tricky. Other potential factors include how season 3 premiered in February instead of the show’s usual October time frame, and how the first two seasons were made available on Netflix in December, which might signal some viewers to wait instead of subscribing to Starz.

NetBase data shows the season 3 premiere brought 38,546 mentions across social channels, which is lower than the season 2 premiere’s 41,794 mentions. Lieban stated the partnership with Valiant brought “a bit over 1 percent of the total volume of conversation around the brand,” but that isn’t a clear indicator of whether the sponsorship is successful or not.

In any case, Lionsgate intends to focus on esports as an important area for marketing, community building and content creation. The media company is currently developing games with an eye on esports, and Engelhardt said the enthusiasm esports generates is critical to the brand’s success.

“We see this as a chance to build a long-term relationship with [Valiant], not just around Ash vs. Evil Dead, but other shows on Starz, [including] Power, Counterpart and more,” Engelhardt said. “We think this is a platform they’ll be excited to discover if they haven’t already, and through Valiant, we can continue to give them special experiences that take them behind the curtain.”

3 Emerging Trends From SXSW 2018 That Marketers Should Know

SXSW only gets bigger every year. Here are the biggest trends impacting this year’s festival of interactive, music, film and gaming.

Experiential Is King

With literally hundreds of things to do and hundreds of thousands of people to do them with, marketers use experiential marketing activations to break through the SXSW noise.

Last year, TV networks went all out to gain the attention of those nearby and inspire photo ops for social media.

To promote its show Stripped, Bravo sent a flash mob of 60 models in nude fabric to walk from the Austin Convention Center to sixth street. Hulu’s ghostly handmaids from A Handmaid’s Tale mulled about. A pop-up Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant served curly fries and talent appearances to hype Better Call Saul.

This year, expect more experiential pop-ups, especially around TV and film. Warner Bros. is hosting a Ready Player One event, for example, that lets users explore the film’s VR world of OASIS and dystopian society in the year 2045.

HBO is bringing the town of Sweetwater to SXSW to those who can grab a ticket before they disappear. The interactive Westworld experience drops attendees into two acres of elaborate sets and actors. Various easter eggs will be scattered throughout, offering clues about the new season.

Panels on experiential storytelling hope to empower marketers with tools and ideas on how to capture customer imaginations. The Henry Ford Museum, Jameson Distillery and BRC Imagine Arts will host a panel on this topic March 12. Another panel on Monday discusses the applications of immersive theater, story rooms, mixed reality and other experiential activations, hosted by Two Bit Circus, Meow Wolf and Soda Borg Corporation.

Social Justice Is The New Business Model

It’s no secret that brands are taking a stand on social and political issues at unprecedented rates. This trend continues into SXSW, where everyone from start-ups to tech giants try to make the world a better place, whether it be through inclusive hiring, groundbreaking tech or sustainable farming.

Philanthropists, entertainers and entrepreneurs will be on-hand to talk about they are enacting, or hope to enact, social change around the globe. One look at the list of panels and it becomes obvious that SXSW will tackle gender, equality, politics, global warming and building a better community, just to name a few. Self-empowerment is also a common theme this year, whether it be through religious faith, meditation or learning new skills.

A panel on March 13 called “Social Media and Social Good: Creators to the Rescue” discusses the positive impact social media creators can have and creating relationships between marketers, non-profits and online celebrities. The panel is hosted by Google, Ad Council and social creators Hannah Hart and Tyler Oakley.

International Women’s Day on March 8 will prompt discussions about equality and gender identity this week, alongside celebrations of female leaders and talent. John Hardy is hosting a party to celebrate the holiday on March 11.

Trending Tech: AI, Blockchain And VR

Technology is ever-present at SXSW, and AI is a hot topic at this year’s festival, with nearly 50 panels on the topic alone. Ethics, regulation, development and marketing are just some of the discussions around AI this year, but using the technology to solve problems is a running theme.

On March 12, Quantcast is hosting a panel on how AI will transform every aspect of the customer journey and how marketers can develop their own AI strategies.

Blockchain, including cryptocurrency, has become a disruptive force in the marketing industry, a subject explored by SXSW’s Intelligent Future track. There are nearly 30 panels on blockchain and its implications at SXSW this year—a testament to how the technology is impacting our world.

Linux and JP Morgan are hosting a panel on March 11 about ecommerce on the blockchain and the opportunities therein. On March 13, a panel hosted by Lampix will outline the opportunities presented when augmented reality (AR) and blockchain meet.

Virtual reality has matured in the last year, leaving marketers and creatives wondering how the technology fits into their business models. This year, professionals will discuss the implications of AR/VR/MR across filmmaking, medical science, journalism and more. For creatives, Microsoft, Valis Entertainment and others are hosting a panel March 15 that talks about using human performances in AR/VR and the impact on narrative.

Data privacy is a common thread that runs through just about all technology panels at the festival. Tim Bell of DPR Group is offering GDPR insights and steps for compliance during his panel on March 12. For brands using AR/VR, law firm Kelley Drye & Warren are hosting a panel on March 14 about how to avoid privacy and security problems.

Frito-Lay Drops AI-Powered ‘Cheetos Vision’ App At SXSW

Cheetos Vision is an app released at SXSW that makes photos and videos look like they were made with crunchy Cheetos snacks. Frito-Lay timed the app’s release with SXSW at a time when attendees were already thinking about tech and making memories.

The app, available on the iPhone App Store, is an AI camera that maps the lines and shadows on both images and videos, then overlays them with Cheetos. According to a spokesperson from Frito-Lay, the AI used deep learning to study Cheetos in order to make its creations look realistic. This involves a convolutional neural network “learning” Cheetos images using intense computation. That’s where the machine learning ends, but it’s enough to transform just about anything into the crunchy snack. In addition to capturing new footage, users can also transform existing photos and videos on their mobile devices.

Users are encouraged to share their cheesy creations on social media using the hashtag #CheetosVision. The app launch includes ads that use geo-targeting to reach SXSW attendees in Austin, Texas, along with a billboard on prominent display. Ads promoting Cheetos Vision are also running on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The app is consistent with Cheetos’ tongue-in-cheek brand persona. In February, the snack brand created and launched a dance move called “The Curl” to rally support for the USA Curling team in February. In August, it opened the Spotted Cheetah—a pop-up restaurant installation in New York that served a menu developed by Food Network personality Anne Burrell.

A Cheetos-themed fashion line was introduced in December of 2016 that offered items ranging from the spicy (Flamin’ Hot Pants) to the comfy (cheetah onesie) and even the pricey—a $20,000 sapphire and diamond ring.

PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division has adopted a mix of digital and experiential marketing campaigns in recent years. Cracker Jack has replaced its toys with mobile game codes. At E3 2016, Doritos’ Mix Arcade let viewers vote on visual effects during a concert through a Twitch livestream.

‘Ready Player One’ Posters Leverage Nostalgia To A Mixed-Bag Response

While nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool, relying too heavily on the fond memories of consumers can make them feel protective. Ready Player One posters’ parody of classic films like Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club left some fans concerned and others inspired.

When Warner Bros. released movie posters that paid homage to classic films, fans said they felt insulted instead of nostalgic. Complaints quickly surfaced about the quality of the artwork as compared to original posters by Drew Struzan. The most common complaint, however, was in comparing Ready Player One to these classic films at all—as if doing so would be anything short of sacrilege.


The Ready Player One poster backlash serves as a cautionary tale about how marketers should treat nostalgia. In many cases, fond memories can entertain and encourage consumers to share franchises with new generations.

Stranger Things was rife with pop culture references from Steven King to video games of the 80s, but overall, fans embraced the nostalgia with open arms. The difference may lie in the fact that promotional art contained similarities but not direct references. Meanwhile, blatant pop culture references on the show were presented “in the wild” as a typical 80s kid might have encountered them naturally. This encouraged viewers to identify with the characters rather than feel that a new intellectual property is ripping off one they already know and love.

If you take the film marketing campaign at face value, it makes sense. Ready Player One revolves around a virtual reality world called the OASIS that allows users to be anyone and do anything they like. As we’ve seen from the trailer, the OASIS includes pop culture worlds and characters including Overwatch, King Kong, The Iron Giant and Back to the Future, just to name a few.

Ready Player One posters that pay homage to these and other franchises have been spotted around Los Angeles. The intention of this marketing campaign was most likely to illustrate how Ready Player One‘s characters can, and most likely will, interact or make reference to these films during their adventure.

Not all fans were angry. Others defended the campaign and its celebration of pop culture. After all, Ready Player One was directed by Steven Spielberg—a man single-handedly responsible for a wealth of pop culture.

Ironically, Warner Bros.’ attempt to leverage pop culture may have created a new meme. Angry or amused fans immediately began creating their own movie poster parodies in what the internet calls a “Photoshop battle.” Fan-created parodies of Warner Bros.’ posters began popping up that range in tastefulness from Paul Blart: Mall Cop to Schindler’s List.

A Guide To SXSW 2018 Parties

For those of you headed to SXSW, you should know that it’s basically one big party. Here’s your 2018 guide to help you navigate this annual get together of creatives and (productive) party animals.

This list is presented in chronological order and will be updated regularly. Did we miss anything? Let us know!

Note that SXSW badges are required unless otherwise noted. While not all events specifically say they are restricted to ages 21-and-over, be prepared to show ID if alcohol is served—and please celebrate responsibly. Food and drink may not be free, regardless of entry price.

FOX Sports House

Sports fans descend on the Hangar Lounge to kick off the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Expert panels, live show programming and special guests. Features food, drinks and entertainment.

When: Friday, March 9 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sports Kick-off Party runs from 7 to 10 p.m.
Where: Hangar Lounge, 318 Colorado St. Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film Badge
Price: Free

Comcast Social Media Lounge Hosted By TechSet

Back for its 11th year, the SXSW Social Media Lounge is a place to chill out with friends or make new ones. Technology, food, beverages and networking.

When: Friday, March 9 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 10 from 9:30 a.m to 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, March 11 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Monday, March 12 from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Tuesday, March 13 from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Where: Austin Convention Center, Room 19 A/B, 500 E. Caesar Chavez St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film Badge
Price: Free

SXSW Taco Meetup

Tacos aren’t just for Tuesdays anymore. The 7th annual Taco Meetup at SXSW is hosted by Magento Commerce. Ticket holders can take a culinary tour of five taco restaurants from the Austin area. Vegetarian options will be available.

When: Friday, March 9 from 12 to 2 p.m.
Where: Brush Square Park, 409 E. 5th St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film Badge
Price: Tickets can be purchased with SXSW badges

Nerdist House

Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman Stern pinball tournaments, live music, custom alter ego silhouettes made on site and a zombie marching band await you away from the crowds.

When: Friday, March 9 from 12:00 p.m. to Saturday,  March 10 at 12:00 a.m.
Saturday, March 10 from 12:00 p.m. to Sunday,  March 11 at 12:00 a.m.
Sunday, March 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden, 79 Rainey St, Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: No badge required
Price: Free

Mashable House And MashBash: Time Warp

Celebrating cultural moments and tech innovations of the past, present and future with drinks, music, dancing and “maybe a few surprises.”

When: Friday, March 9 from 12 to 5 p.m.
Saturday, March 10 from 12 to 5 p.m.
Sunday, March 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: The Main, 610 E. 6th Ave. Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film Badge
Price: Free

Lesbutante And The Boss LBQTIA+ SXSW Bash

Party and network with a diverse host of entrepreneurs and creatives. Includes panels and a meet and greet. Those who RSVP get a drawstring backpack swag bag, a commemorative hat, guaranteed entry and a VIP section with available booth seating.

When: Saturday, March 10 from 9 p.m. to Monday, March 11 at 3 a.m.
Where: Sellers Underground, 213 W. 4th St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: No SXSW badge required
Price: Free for general admission, VIP access available from $20-$100

Film Industry Happy Hour Hosted By Rotten Tomatoes

Networking with professionals from movies and TV.

When: Friday, March 9 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: Intercontinental, Stephen P Austin Ballroom A, 701 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Film and Platinum badges only
Price: Free

Interactive Opening Party

SXSW official kick-off sponsored by Accenture Interactive. This annual shindig features live music, an open bar alongside Accenture’s ad tech and client demos.

When: Friday, March 9 from 8 to 11 p.m.
Where: Micheladas, 333 E. 2nd St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film Badge
Price: Free

Alita: Battle Angel Opening Party

A unique chance to visit the Iron City movie set for 20th Century Fox’s Alita: Battle Angel ahead of the film’s debut. A shuttle will take guests to Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios, where they will be joined by members of the film’s cast and crew for a celebratory get-together.

When: Friday, March 9 from 9:30 p.m. to Saturday, March 10 at 12:30 a.m.
Where: Shuttle picks up at the 5th Street side entrance of the Hilton Hotel in Downtown Austin, 500 E. 4th St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: Film and Platinum badges only
Price: Free

SingularDTV Post-Panel Cocktail: Tokenized Economics And Mixed Drinks

Discuss blockchain, content funding and production over a drink with SingularDTV’s Zach LeBeau, EDM producer Gramatik, XYZ Films’ Nate Bolotin and others.

When: Saturday, March 10 from 4:30 to 5:40 p.m.
Where: Austin Convention Center, Room 12AB, 500 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin, TX, 78701
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

Film Industry Happy Hour Hosted By Stream Space

One of many SXSW parties that are perfect for film and TV show enthusiasts.

When: Saturday, March 10 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: Intercontinental, Stephen P Austin Ballroom A, 701 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Film and Platinum badges only
Price: Free

[a]list @ SXSW

Come hang out with us! Want to talk marketing? AListDaily has you covered. Stop by and connect with fellow marketing and media leaders over music, food and drinks.

When: Saturday, March 10 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: Lambert’s Downtown Barbeque, 401 W. 2nd St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: If you haven’t RSVP’d, please email us at sxsw@alistdaily.com!
Price: Free

Interactive Mix At Six Party

Presented by Cogeco Peer 1, this mixer provides snacks, networking and presumably drinks, since the venue is 21+.

When: Saturday, March 10 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Where: Swan Dive, 615 Red River St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Interactive and Platinum badges only
Price: Free

SXSW Social Impact Opening Party Presented By Handshake

Enjoy a lake view cocktail party and rub elbows with philanthropists, storytellers and entertainers.

When: Saturday, March 10 from 7 to 10 p.m.
Where: Waller Creek Boathouse, 71 Trinity St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

SXSW Film Festival 25th Edition Party Hosted By Ready Player One and Vive VR

An interactive experience based on the upcoming Warner Bros. film. Guests are invited to explore OASIS, the VR world from Ready Player One using Vive VR headsets and learn more about the film’s dystopian setting. The party features live DJ performances by Them Jeans.

When: Saturday, March 10 from 10 p.m. to Sunday, March 11 at 3 a.m.
Where: Brazos Hall, 204 E. 4th St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Film and Platinum badges only
Price: Free

Crunch By Crunchfest

TechCrunch throws SXSW parties each year and tickets go fast. Meet writers and watch live performances by Autograf, Mobley, MIEARS and Glassio.

When: Sunday, March 11 from 12 to 4 p.m.
Where: The Sidewinder, 15 Red River St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: Ticket required. Although RSVPs have closed, the site suggests contacting a TechCrunch writer for access.
Price: Free

Cities Summit Opening Party Presented By Bosch

The Cities Summit kicks off with networking and drinks.

When: Sunday, March 11 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Palm Door on Sixth, 508 E. 6th St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

Viceland Party Lot

If your dream of SXSW parties involves farm animals, look no further. This three-day party bus includes drinks, music, swag, snacks and oh, yes—baby goats.

When: Sunday, March 11, Monday, March 12 and Tuesday, March 13 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: 98 Red River Lot., 98 Red River St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

John Hardy Celebrates International Women’s Day

A celebration of female strength as embodied by the Naga dragon of Balinese legend.

When: Sunday, March 11 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Where: Four Seasons Terrace, 98 San Jacinto Blvd., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

Red Bull Media Presents The Dawn Wall After Party

Celebrating the North American premiere of The Dawn Wall, a film by Red Bull Media and Sender Films. Join the cast and crew for an interactive installation, artwork, behind the scenes and of course, a few drinks.

When: Sunday, March 11 from 6 to 10 p.m
Where: Parlor & Yard, 601 W. 6th, Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Platinum and Interactive badges only
Price: Free

IFC Midnight Presents A SXSW Party

My dudes. If you ever wanted to see Frodo playing a DJ set, you don’t want to miss this. Elijah Wood will DJ along with Zach Cowie (Wooden Wisdom) and Death Waltz & Mondo Vinyl.

When: Sunday, March 11 from 8 to 11:30 p.m.
Where: Charles Johnson House – American Legion, 404 Atlanta St., Austin, TX 78703
Requirements: 21+, Film and Platinum badges only
Price: Free

Dance Party With Gramatik And Friends

Hosted by SingularDTV, electronic music producer Gramatik wants you to know about his GRMTK crypto tokens. He’s celebrating his anticipated wealth with a live performance.

When: Sunday, March 11 from 9 p.m to Monday, March 12 at 2 a.m.
Where: Clearport, 516 E. 6th St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 18+, Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

Film Industry Happy Hour Hosted By Killer Tracks

Another chance to hang out with fellow film and TV enthusiasts.

When: Sunday, March 11 from 9 p.m to Monday, March 12 at 2 a.m.
Where: Intercontinental, Stephen P Austin Ballroom A, 701 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Film and Platinum badges only
Price: Free

HappyHourLab With CityLab

A get together for those passionate about the future of their cities. Features a conversation with musical artist Tunde Olaniran about his hometown of Flint, Michigan.

When: Monday, March 12 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Where: Four Seasons Terrace, 98 San Jacinto Blvd., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

Strangeworks SXSW Launch Party

This brand new stealth quantum computing software startup is throwing a party. Come say hello.

When: Tuesday, March 13 from 8 p.m. to Wednesday, March 14 at 12 a.m.
Where: Lustre Pearl, 94 Rainey St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

Film Intermission Party Presented By Netflix

Right after the awards ceremony, shuttles will be available to take film buffs to an after party.

When: Tuesday, March 13 from 10 p.m. to Wednesday, March 14 at 1 a.m.
Where: Zach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar, Austin, TX 78704
Requirements: Film and Platinum badges only
Price: Free

Music Opening Party Presented By Greater Fort Lauderdale’s Underground

Kick off the SXSW Music Festival with drinks and live performances.

When: Tuesday, March 13 from 6 to 9 p.m., Riptide Music Festival runs from 9 p.m. to Wednesday, March 14 at 2 a.m.
Where: TBA
Requirements: Platinum or Music badge
Price: Free

Party At The Fort Worth Now House

This all-ages party features live music with free beer and whiskey, while supplies last. Performances by Quaker City Night Hawks, Grady Spencer & the Work, Abraham Alexander, Summer Dean and others.

When: Wednesday, March 14 from 1 to 6 p.m.
Where: Fair Market, 1100 E. 5th St., Austin, TX 78702
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

SXSW Hackathon After Party

A 24-hour hackathon ends not with sleep, but with drinks and music following the awards ceremony.

When: Wednesday, March 14 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: TBA
Requirements: Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

SXSW Gaming Opening Party

Join The Attack‘s Alex Corea and enjoy a host nerdcore musical artists as they kick off the SXSW gaming festival. Live performances by Mega Ran, SAMMUS, Rockit Gaming, NerdOut! and Super Soul Bros.

When: Thursday, March 15 from 8 to 11 p.m.
Where: Hilton Austin Downtown, Grand Ballroom, 500 E. 4th St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Platinum, Interactive, Music, or Film badge
Price: Free

Sounds From Spain Paella Day Party

Sip on Sangria, munch on paella and watch live performances from Spanish artists including Neuman, Christina Rosenvinge, The Zephyr Bones, Los Wilds and Joe Crepusculo.

When: Friday, March 16 from 1 to 5 p.m.
Where: Brush Square Park, 409 E. 5th St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Platinum, Interactive, Music, or Film badge, artist wristband
Price: Free

SXSW Gaming Closing Party

Alas, the Gaming Festival must come to an end, but not the revelry.

When: Saturday, March 17 from 11 p.m. to Sunday, March 18 at 1 a.m.
Where: The Belmont, 305 W. 6th St., Austin, TX 78701
Requirements: 21+, Platinum, Interactive, Music or Film badge
Price: Free

While VR For Kids Is Low Priority, Family-Friendly Games Still On The Way

Oculus and other content publishers, particularly in the gaming space, are putting increased emphasis on the social aspects of virtual reality in an effort to win mainstream acceptance. While location-based experiences and competitive multiplayer games help to overcome the perception that VR is an isolating experience, some companies are also looking for opportunities in family-oriented entertainment.

But those doing so are making early bets. Kids and families aren’t a priority market, Stephanie Llamas, SuperData’s VP of research and strategy, told AListDaily. This is mainly because there isn’t much demand right now, as adults are still deciding whether to adopt VR for themselves, much less their kids.

Although some might see that as a good reason to put this audience aside, others view it as an opportunity to build a nascent market as awareness and adoption of VR technology continues to grow.

Playful, which also makes the Minecraft-like game Creativerse, developed Lucky’s Tale as a launch title for the Oculus Rift. It still comes free with purchase of the headset.

Mark Stanley, president and chief business officer at Playful, told AListDaily that offering the game for free was the most effective way to make the IP widely known, even among the relatively small number of headset owners when the Oculus Rift first launched, establishing Playful as a family-friendly brand. Awareness for the original Lucky’s Tale continues to grow as the price of VR hardware drops and more people purchase headsets for themselves.

“That’s a category that we’re going to be very clear on,” Stanley said. “That the experience with our content, whether it be VR or flat screen, is going to be a joyful experience and can bridge the gap between kids and parents.”

Establishing brand recognition is an important part of helping parents overcome their sense of apprehension when it comes to letting their kids try out experiences. Since you can’t always get a sense of whether VR content will be appropriate for kids, thinking of Playful along the same lines as Disney or Nintendo could go a long way. To this end, Playful expanded its franchise in November by partnering with Microsoft to launch Super Lucky’s Tale, a traditional action title it hopes will be regarded as the Mario game for the Xbox One platform.

Startup VR developer Rocket Worldwide also sees an opportunity when it comes to family entertainment and debuted Train Runner VR for the HTC Vive in December. The game, which involves constructing gadgets to rescue a puppy from a speeding train, will be updated with additional content in the future.

Rocket Worldwide CEO Doug Kryzan explained that there are essentially two target audiences—the first being the kids who will be playing the games and the other being their parents. The first step in engaging parents is to create entertainment that parents are comfortable with, meaning the games need to be non-violent while promoting aspects of personal empowerment and critical thinking.

Similar to Playful, Rocket is conveying the message that it is a brand that makes family-friendly games in order to appeal to both audiences. The company is doing this by taking a focused approach with its promotion, mainly relying on social channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to get the word out about Train Runner.

Both companies agree that VR content is currently geared heavily toward hardcore gamers. “There isn’t the same level of experiences for the wider audience,” Kryzan said. “So, as a game developer, we’re carefully watching this and working to understand what messages resonate with these two audiences and what the most effective ways to reach them are, given the maturity of the market.”

But Stanley believes engagement with a more hardcore audience is the key to growing awareness for family-friendly titles. For example, the communications Playful has done with the Xbox One community in partnership with Microsoft for the launch of Super Lucky’s Tale is helping to bring more attention to the original VR game.

“Xbox’s traditional target audience has not been kids and family,” Stanley said. “We just launched [Super Lucky’s Tale] in November, but we’re still finding new ways to reach kids and parents.”

However, according to Llamas, the ongoing view that VR is an isolating experience presents a major obstacle, especially as parents already battle the endless pull smartphones and computers have on kids.

To combat this perception, Stanley pointed out the “copilot mode” for the Xbox One game, where parents can help their children control the main character through trickier parts.

Rocket also plans to include cooperative play features in Train Runner in the future. But even though multiplayer will help VR be seen as a more social activity, Kryzan added that another opportunity comes in giving the nearby viewing audience—those who aren’t wearing headsets—a means of interacting with the game.

But the greatest challenge these companies face is that parents may not know whether or not VR headsets are safe for their children.

“Many manufacturers warn that kids under 13 should not use VR headsets, even though there is not enough scientific evidence proving one way or the other, so already that is a deterrent,” Llamas said.

Stanley believes VR has a long road ahead when addressing this matter. He said people need to have access to headsets outside of events such as E3 to gain a better understanding of the technology. That way, parents may become more comfortable with their kids trying out VR experiences. Both Playful and Rocket are currently in discussions with arcades and other location-based businesses to support their games, but Playful is also looking to develop non-VR theme park attractions based on the Lucky’s Tale franchise.

Llamas admits that even though the kids and family demographic isn’t essential to the growth of VR, since the money lies with tech-savvy adults, it will eventually become an important market.

Stanley agrees, and said it will be first adopters, comprised of older gamers with greater purchasing power, mixed with the massive content consumption teens and tweens have that will drive the VR market forward. He also added that the accessibility of VR content must be matched by the hardware for the market to grow.

“Setting up demo stations at every retailer across the country is a major investment, but I think it’s one that’s necessary to accelerate the install base and spread the understanding of what VR is,” Stanley said.

With Net Neutrality Repeal, Digital Marketing Spend May Move Toward ISPs

Marketers should be concerned with the absence of net neutrality because it has the potential to increase advertising prices and influence brands to begin budgeting their marketing spend more toward internet service providers (ISPs).

The repeal of net neutrality is scheduled to go into effect on April 23. In a non-neutral internet environment, ISPs like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile and Spectrum can block or at least slow web traffic, which can create an unpleasant clog in the user experience. It may ultimately force marketers to pay a premium in order to reach the widest possible audience in a timely manner.

Think of network access now as a surcharge or tax on top of advertising prices, all while the consumer bears the brunt of the extraction.

“Brands will invest in marketing that reaches people, and if that means they can use platforms and adtech owned by ISPs, they will,” Mozilla CMO Jascha Kaykas-Wolff told AListDaily. “If ISPs can pick and choose what works—and what works well—then it will be harder to reach consumers if you don’t put up the money.”

Obama-era net neutrality protections were intended to keep the internet a fair, open playing field by requiring ISPs to treat web traffic equally. With consolidation in ad platforms and major media and tech platforms becoming wealthier and more influential than ever, the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality creates a lack of competition within online markets.

“You’ve got to question whether it is the role of ISPs to pick winners before you start marketing,” said Kaykas-Wolff. “I don’t feel the majority is being represented in this hyper-partisan debate. Marketers will have to be a lot smarter upfront doing their planning for ad buying.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the poster child for the imminent change, took the stage for a keynote at Mobile World Congress last week and claimed the regulation is needed to build out the nation’s next generation of wireless infrastructure.

“The United States is simply making a shift from preemptive regulation—which foolishly presumes that every last wireless company is a competitive monopolist—to targeted enforcement based on actual market failure for any competitive content,” Pai said.

Companies from Netflix, Reddit, Tumblr, Sonos and even Burger King are all trying to keep alive the fight against Pai and net neutrality. Internet companies like Etsy, Expa, Kickstarter, Automattic, Foursquare and Shutterstock are taking it one step further and suing the FCC over the repeal. 

In a cause marketing move that coincided with the Grammy’s, smart speakers-maker Sonos closed the doors to its New York flagship store to underscore the importance of net neutrality and the innovation it allows.

“If the internet becomes a pay-for-speed channel, I think marketers might have to pay,” said Dmitri Siegel, global head of brand for Sonos. “We will adapt to whatever changes take place in the media landscape. Unfortunately, there is no work around.”

Siegel stated any changes to the economics of sharing content could have a sizable effect on their advertising business.

“Anyone who delivers or consumes content through the internet should be concerned,” Siegel said. “We take this utility for granted, so it’s easy to think it’s someone else’s problem.”

Jason Peterson, chairman of entertainment tech company GoDigital Media Group, said net neutrality is the “elephant in the room for all internet businesses” and that marketers will now need to be mindful of price discrimination, peering and unfair competition. He offered a metaphor of how one driver will be able to pay $1 but another $5 for driving across a toll bridge.

“If we open up the market for wired and wireless internet access, this will create price and service competition among ISPs,” said Peterson.

Software litigation attorney Marcus Harris said ISPs now hold the keys because they have the ability to dictate where and how ads are going to be seen. For example, entering into a marketing deal with Verizon will ensure that digital advertisements will be viewed on Verizon-owned properties, like CNN (or Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal), and other high-access websites. Similarly, it’s possible that individual websites that ISPs deem as competition with its content could be blocked. This will force marketers to create a wide-net strategy directed toward major websites with the most users.

“At first, there will be uncertainty and a hodgepodge of airline-like fees to deal with,” said Harris. “One way to navigate that uncertainty is for brands to advertise directly with ISPs. It could help avoid uncertainty as to if the ad will be seen at all.”

Harris said brands could very well be forced to advertise on either free websites that bear the brunt of the fees associated with high-bandwidth advertising or pay additional fees to ISPs for content-rich ads. The result will be two-fold. First, small companies with limited advertising budgets will be regulated to second-class placement where ads are seen by a subset of consumers, or not seen at all, either because of limited access or slow load times. Secondly, only the largest companies with the biggest advertising budgets will be seen on large media outlets.

“The impact on targeted advertising to discrete subsets of consumers is unclear,” said Harris. “What is clear though is that this will all have an enormous impact on traditional metrics for tracking advertisements.”

Kaykas-Wolff added that any time ISPs mess with data it’s supposed to deliver, they introduce perverse incentives and a bias in the market. They also make it more difficult to launch a competitive product to the incumbent and more expensive to reach new customers.

“ISPs want to extract money from everyone involved, including users, platforms and ad networks,” said Kaykas-Wolff. “Fundamentally, whenever a user experience is compromised on purpose, no one wins.”

Scissors cutting ethernet cable

Ryan Singel, a fellow at Stanford Law School and formerly a reporter who covered net neutrality and tech policy for Wired, said there may be substantial advantages on spends for platforms owned by ISPs since marketers are always looking to gain a competitive advantage.

“I distrust ISPs, but I hesitate to say that marketers would totally kill off all other viable marketing channels,” said Singel, who also moonlights as the CEO of Contextly, an engagement platform for publishers. “I have a hard time thinking how ISPs can totally corner marketing spend.

“The big worry is that the cost of marketing is going to increase, and innovation and experimentation is going to stall. ISPs are increasingly trying to become vertical [companies]. You can see a future where they make themselves look more attractive to marketers.”

The lack of net neutrality can stall marketing innovation because creators and entrepreneurs will struggle to reach new users, and investment in new ideas may wither. Without innovation, the internet will begin to look more like cable TV over time, said Kaykas-Wolff, as only the dominant players could afford to buy their way into the network.

As advertisers look toward alternative ways to reach consumers, Harris expects a bigger push for brands toward social media like Facebook and Twitter because bandwidth premiums will likely be paid by the platforms.

“Right now there is going to be a very high level of uncertainty,” he said. “Traditional metrics and advertising prices will need to be recalibrated. For advertisers and brands that can afford it, they will need to create platform-specific campaigns to ensure that the user experience or message is not disjointed.”

With the repeal of net neutrality around the corner, there will be an inability to utilize traditional metrics, data and information to measure effectiveness, added Kaykas-Wolff. The C-level will need to start sharpening their skills around audience research and product marketing to develop effective campaigns.

“Marketers haven’t had to work these functions over the past decade because of the proliferation of tech platforms, ad targeting and tricks,” said Kaykas-Wolff. “They will need to start exercising marketing muscles more.

“This ease of access to tools has made us lazy, and we should go back to developing the fundamentals of marketing that are about the pinpoint understanding of where your potential customers are and what they need. This can tune advertising better than any tool.”

YouTube Defends Top Social Video Spot As Young Viewers Look Away

YouTube sits comfortably as the most-used social network among those 18-24, but young consumers are now splitting their time between it and other social video destinations, posing a threat to Google’s video dominance.

Despite marketer concerns about brand safety, a new Pew Research study shows that YouTube is still a prominent destination for US consumers. Google’s video-sharing site is now used by 73 percent of US adults, compared to Facebook at 68 percent, according to Pew Research Center. YouTube is especially popular among users age 18-24, with 94 percent saying they use the site.

YouTube is attracting more users overall, but only 29 percent of US consumers visit the site multiple times a day, compared to the 51 percent returning time and time again to Facebook.

Facebook, used by 80 percent of 18-24-year-olds, hopes to lure viewers away with its own social video platform. The social media giant has been busy making deals with the music industry, capitalizing on YouTube’s strained relationship with music execs. Facebook also poured over $200 million dollars into programming for Facebook Watch and hopes to offer ad revenue-sharing to creators amid YouTube conflicts over brand safety.

Instagram is also pulling eyes away from YouTube, with 60 percent of users indicating that they check the site at least once daily and 38 percent saying they do so several times a day. A year after its launch, Instagram Stories is going strong with 300 million active users. Marketing options like carousel ads have made watching videos on Instagram a popular destination for advertisers and users alike.

Snapchat is also investing in original video programming at a pivotal time in the company’s growth. Pew found that 49 percent of US consumers check Snapchat multiple times a day, which could translate to a lot of video views, so long as users accept the controversial app redesign.