SXSW 2019 in Austin
SXSW is about the speaker sessions, the music, the films and the events, but it's also about the parties. Parties at the Austin media and tech conference are a great place to meet up and hob nob with some of the biggest names at the festival. They're also a great place to, well, party.
One of the biggest parties on Friday night was CNN's (and no I'm not just saying that because I work here).
The party, which took place at the CNN Clubhouse, was jammed packed with journalists, SXSW party-goers and CNN executives -- all of whom danced until late in the morning to the DJ stylings of Rev. Run from the legendary hip hop group Run DMC.
The party had an 80s theme, which included neon lights, neon wristbands and pretty much neon everything. The party also even had a room with some of the 1980s most popular arcade games such as Donkey Kong.
Alex Gibney — the prolific documentary filmmaker behind "Dirty Money" and "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" — showcased his upcoming Theranos documentary on Friday evening at SXSW.
The film, which debuted at Sundance, gives a stunning behind-the-scenes look into the now-disgraced startup that set out to revolutionize blood testing but, in fact, did nothing of the sort.
"The Inventor" runs about two hours and features new interviews with former Theranos employees, the journalists who were among the first to cover the startup, and the WSJ reporter who brought the company's truth to light.
In a brief Q&A after the screening at SXSW, Gibney said he was first "convinced" by HBO executive Richard Butler and former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter to take on Theranos in 2017. (CNN and HBO share parent company WarnerMedia.)
It was initially difficult to get employees to talk, he said, because they were afraid of being sued. Eventually, Gibney and his team were able to obtain 100 hours of previously shot footage from inside Theranos (including founder Elizabeth Holmes and former Theranos COO Sunny Balwani dancing as they enter a room for a company all-hands after receiving FDA approval for one test).
Gibney said the story began with interviewing the journalists who felt duped:
This is a story about getting fooled."
"The Inventor" isn't out on HBO until March 18th, but I'll be chatting with Gibney about the film Saturday morning and will let you know what else I learn....
Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman had a really interesting conversation about the changing world of storytelling, streaming and Hollywood on Friday, specifically as it pertains to their new short-form video company, Quibi.
Their most interesting points:
- Katzenberg told NBCNews' Dylan Byers that five years from now he wants to Quibi to be synonymous with short form video in the way that "Kleenex is with tissues and Google is with search." He then asked the audience, "big enough?"
- Katzenberg said that competitors are coming for Netflix (NFLX) in the streaming world, but that he believes that Disney (DIS) can be a winner *in addition to* Netflix. "It's not a zero-sum game," he said.
- Katzenberg pointed out that people pay $120 per household for cable now, so there's likely room for many of these services.
- What about Steven Spielberg's reported war with Netflix? Katzenberg said on stage that Spielberg, who he worked with to build the studio DreamWorks, told him yesterday that there's no plans for him to come up with a plan at the Oscars to crush Netflix. "He absolutely didn't say that," he said.
- Whitman and Katzenberg told the crowd that their new service is developing a variety of shows for its launch next April. That includes a reality show with entertainment executive Scooter Braum that will be a music competition show, a show with singer Jennifer Lopez and another show called "Frat Boy Genius" that will be the story of Evan Spiegel and how he built Snapchat.
Media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and business executive Meg Whitman sat down with NBC News' Dylan Byers about their new short-form video company, Quibi.
One thing that wasn't short, however, was the line to get into the session. It took up two floors.
Festival-goers, including yours truly, were put into an overflow room. Luckily I'll be sitting down with Katzenberg and Whitman for an interview on Friday afternoon.
You can't get two better people to talk about the news world than CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter and Peter Kafka, the executive editor at Recode.
The two sat down at SXSW on Friday and spoke about how media reporters covering the changing (and sometimes crazy) world of news.
The social savvy Stelter said he's thinking of new platforms to connect with viewers that's better than the "sewer that Twitter has become." He added that media companies like CNN need to build tools so they don't just rely on the Facebooks (FB) and Twitters (TWTR) of the world.
Stelter also spoke about being a consultant on Apple's adaptation of his book about morning news, "Top of the Morning." He also discussed the challenges of covering his own company.
One of the greatest things about CNN is that we cover the company in the same way we cover NBC or Fox," Stelter said.
He says when reaching out to CNN PR, he's not asking if he can publish or anything like that. He simply asks, "Anything to add?"
Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed's CEO and co-founder, spoke early on Friday morning and had one goal on his mind: saving the internet.
Peretti touched on the layoffs that hit the website earlier this year, saying that he sent a memo last year about the media in crisis.
Unfortunately I was correct," he said.
But he also mentioned that tech companies and the internet as a whole had a tough year with trolls and fake news dominating the conversation.
Peretti's goal is fix the internet and make it less of a "dumpster fire."
Peretti and BuzzFeed think they can do that by building consumer products via its Tasty brand and making its reporters and voices "influencers" that people can connect with online.
Perettis also says he wants media companies to focus on on the “weird” and “magical” aspects of the internet rather than creating “shi*ty television.”
I'm here at SXSW getting ready for a busy day.
- First thing on my agenda is moderating a panel with the NBA, Hulu and Bleacher Report about how leagues, streaming services and tech companies are catering to super fans.
- Later today, I'll be sitting down with the Winklevoss twins to discuss their cryptocurrency exchange, Gemini, and their outlook on the space.
Sure, SXSW is a great place to hear from creators in Silicon Valley and execs from the media world, but it's also a low-key solid film festival.
The conference has a great lineup of small and big films playing this week, including some that could be tomorrow's big blockbusters. (Remember the surprise hit "A Quiet Place" premiered here last year.)
This year's lineup includes standouts like Matthew McConaughey's "The Beach Bum," Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron's "Long Shot," the remake of Stephen King's chilling "Pet Sematary," and the biggest of them, "Us," Jordan Peele's follow up to "Get Out," which opens the festival on Friday night.
There are a ton of speakers at this year's SXSW, and it can be hard to cut through all the clutter, so here's some of the most interesting sessions happening this weekend:
- Jonah Peretti: Friday @11am CT — The BuzzFeed co-founder and CEO will talk about the shareable content of the site, which went through harsh layoffs earlier this year.
- Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman: Friday @2pm CT — As the streaming wars heat up, Quibi founder Jeffery Katzenberg and Meg Whitman will likely have plenty to say about how storytelling is changing in Hollywood.
- The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Saturday @12:30pm CT — Trevor Noah and his team of satirical news correspondents will sit down with CNN's Jake Tapper to talk about how late night TV handles the fast-paced news cycle.
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Saturday @5pm CT — The New York congresswoman and social media star will sit down to discuss what drives her politics. This will likely be one of the most talked-about sessions of the conference.
- Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger: Monday @2pm CT — Instagram has not only changed how we take photos but how we experience and remember life. The app's founders will talk about the legacy of the world's favorite camera.