With attendance at South By Southwest Interactive estimated to have increased by as much as 40% this year, the interactive portion of the festival seems to be usurping a center stage at a show that initially began in 1987 with a sole focus on music. This year, according to event organizers, the number of badges purchased for the SXSW Interactive Festival surpassed those purchased for the music portion of the event.
Of course, attendance rates at this particular festival are merely a microcosm of the shift in media dominance; interactive media is gaining significant clout in the broader Industry. The attendees of the SXSW Interactive, who arrive via ’nerd birds’ and affectionately refer to the festival as ‘spring break for geeks’, have become the ruling caste of an Industry that has historically been controlled by the likes of musicians, actors, media conglomerates and other ‘cool kids’.
The triumph of the ‘nerds’ in the battle for media power is reminiscent of the 1984 film, The Revenge of the Nerds, in which a group of ‘nerds’ moves up their university’s social hierarchy by outsmarting the school’s highest echelon of command, the ‘alpha betas’. Upon understanding that power is contingent upon taking control of the ‘Greek Council’ the ‘nerds’ band together and use their combined wits to overtake an organization that was traditionally dominated by the ‘alpha betas’ (aka the University jocks).
Much like the ‘nerds’ featured in the 1984 comedy, today’s ‘nerds’ banded together and used their collective intellectual prowess to become dominant forces in a playing field that had historically belonged to the ‘cool kids’. In understanding that the essence of media power lies in audience appeal, interactive leaders were able to re-engineer the concept of mass communication in such a way that the audience with whom they sought to find favor was sure to embrace. Unlike traditional media, in which the vast majority of of people were relegated to the role of voyagers, interactive media offered a drastically different value proposition in which any member of society could become a producer or creator of media.
Quite simply, interactive media changed the game by making the audience infinitely more relevant.