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Al Franken, Felicia Day Lead SXSW Interactive Lineup

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South by Southwest (SXSW) began in 1987 as a music festival, and quickly became the leading U.S. showcase for up-and-coming bands as well as the industry's annual "must-attend" conference. These days, however, the music portion of SXSW is overshadowed by SXSW Interactive, a five-day conference and trade show devoted to all things online that kicks off on Friday, and this year online video is "front and center," according to one speaker.

"SXSW is the center of the digital content universe, and video is increasingly becoming essential for all content sites," says Steve Rosenbaum, CEO and founder of Magnify.net and author of Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers are Creators. Rosenbaum is giving a talk based on his book Monday, March 14, at 5:30 p.m. Curation is becoming more and more important, he says, because "as video content grows, the volume of video will outstrip current search solutions." Therefore, consumers need to rely on curators to help them sort through what's out there to find the content they want.  

While the daily keynotes cover all realms of interactive media-gaming, social, ecommerce, and more-two in particular stand out for online video. Senator Al Franken, a leading proponent of net neutrality, speaks Monday, March 14 at 9:30 a.m. on "An Open Internet: The Last, Best Hope for Independent Producers," while at 2 p.m. Felicia Day-one of the stars and creators of The Guild, one of the first and most successful web-only series-sits down with NewTeeVee's Liz Shannon Miller to talk about using the web to grab the attention of consumers who are increasingly turning away from movies and television.

Also presenting at SXSW Interactive is Steve Garfield, author of Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business. Garfield says his talk, "6 Easy Ways to Produce Compelling Video (That You Hadn't Thought of Before") will offer "tips for with capturing moments in real time and sharing them without any editing. Among other things, I'm going to show how to record directly to two very well known websites." Garfield, who's also a regular fixture at Streaming Media East and Streaming Media West, will be speaking at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15.

"Interactive means online, and that includes video," says Garfield. "Video is being embraced by everyone from individuals to companies. I'll be looking for ways that companies are using video to interact with, as Jay Rosen says, 'the people formerly known as the audience.'"

The fact that SXSW Interactive doesn't have a conference track devoted specifically to video doesn't mean that video isn't crucial to the event's focus. Rather, the conference takes a broader view of video, building it into the Business, Social Graph, Convergence, and other tracks. In particular, video is prominently represented in the "Future 15" track, where speakers each get a quick 15 minutes to address topics such as "3 Screens, 1 Cloud," "Designing Video-Rich Websites for All Three Screens," "Google TV to iPad Apps," "How to Get a Web Series Cult Following," and my favorite, "F***ing Old Spice Guy: Race, Sex, Micro-Celebrity."

While SXSW Interactive isn't sold out, it's nearly impossible now to get a hotel room in Austin. Last year, more than 14,000 people attended, including more than 1,500 members of the interactive media. Luckily, keynotes and other portions of the conference will be streamed live for those who won't be able to attend.

I'll be making my first trek to SXSW Interactive and will be there from Sunday through the Interactive Awards Tuesday night. Watch for my reports.

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