SXSW 2015 Day 2

15 Mar

Day 2 was another good one with some good variety in my panel choices that happened to be purely by accident.

First up was “Netflix Shares a Decade of A/B Test Learning,” which of course was super popular and full. Todd Yellin, VP of Product Innovation at Netflix, took us through the many innovations at the company and explained how they roll out new features and designs on the site. When you think about it, the scale of changing Netflix’s UI is daunting simply because people access it from so many different devices…laptop, Apple TV, Roku, iPad, Surface, etc. Each one has to have a UI that works. They also spend a lot of time tweaking design using “big data” collected from users and A/B testing control groups and experimental groups that way. Long story short, your Netflix homepage probably looks a little or a lot different than mine. They watch how we click, how we scroll, how we search, and adjust the design accordingly. Surprisingly, simple big data collection is less useful than you’d think…global taste is homogenizing…meaning 60 year old Swedish women might watch The Avengers and 24 year old American men might watch Dance Moms and there is no use in stereotyping by age and gender. We are a simple yet complex humanity, apparently. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see their test on what graphics cause the most clicks – this one for Breaking Bad. We all voted on the yellow Walter White as being the most popular but we were wrong! The most engagement was from the middle graphic of the camper. Netflix has revolutionized actual TV metrics because before we relied on Neilsen ratings which makes people keep a diary of their viewing…which was probably fudged. Netflix knows exactly what you watched, what time of day, how long you watched it, how many episodes in a row you watched it, when you clicked out if you got bored, etc. Interesting stuff.

Next up…”The Changing Face of Fame: Social Media Celebrities.” There are people on Youtube and Vine with thousands and thousands of followers, creating content on a weekly basis that is liked, shared, and commented on by their fans…and if you’re over the age of 30 you might not know them at all. The Top 5 most influential figures among U.S. teens right now are these online short form content creators…not traditional celebrities. So many people consume content on Youtube these days, it is not surprising it has its own brand of celebrity. Interestingly, these newer stars are often very attached to causes and charities, so brands and nonprofits are trying to leverage this as a way of reaching new audiences. Cubby Graham of the Charity Water organization said, “Emotional connection is the new definition of quality in marketing.” Short answer: people can smell a disingenuous pitch from a mile away and millenials are even less susceptible to traditional ad marketing.

After that…a Conversation with Biz Stone (know for being the founder of Twitter). I was amused, because I saw Biz Stone talk last year and he was all about his new app Jelly. Jelly Jelly Jelly Jelly Jelly. It was going to revolutionize the way we help each other online. I downloaded it, used it for a minute, and now it’s off my phone. Turns out, that happened with a lot of people. So THIS year, Biz Stone is all about his new app Super! Super Super Super Super! To his credit, he talked about the failures of Jelly and after he explained Super…I was in. Super’s mission is to foster empathy. It’s a creative platform for people to share their thoughts with the help of graphics and text. As Biz said echoing the last panel, “The future of marketing is philanthropy.” I kind of like it. I don’t know if it’ll catch on. Truth is, you will only have a Twitter once, probably. It was cool to hear him talk about announcing Twitter to the 2007 SXSW people and having the app go down right before they unveiled it…but having that kind of revolution in tech with something catching like wildfire and growing to a company the generates over a billion dollars a year is…rare. A unicorn, if you will. In the meantime, try Super if you’re inclined.

Next up: keynote by Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud of the Saudi royal family. Amazing story. She is breaking down barriers in Saudi Arabia, running several successful business and charitable causes while working with the Saudi government for women’s rights. I guess the country has recently mandated that women must work in certain sectors of society (even mandating men NOT work in them), but Princess Reema has been tackling all of the cultural and societal norms there that still get in the way of the mandate. Things like…women can work, but they cannot drive there. “As a business person, you have no chance of measuring productivity among your workers if they are reliant on a driver to get themselves to work.” Princess Reema, who owns a successful department store line akin to Barney’s, is the first employer to offer a transportation stipend and on-site daycare for her women employees, as well as financial planning and training…things they have never had.

Fashion show at “The Edge of the World”

She’s also very involved in Saudi fashion which is very innately tied to the shifts in culture there. Her main point, “Work on the women first, then the business.” When your employees feel “safe, stable, and respected,” you will be successful. Her new project is a breast cancer awareness campaign for women in the Middle East…another taboo there that she argues needs to be overcome for early detection and education purposes. Check out for a great video.

On to UCB on TV: How Improv is Changing Everything with Nick Kroll of The Kroll Show, Matt Besser of The Upright Citizens Brigade, and Katie Dippold, a writer for Parks and Recreation and The Heat (and the new Ghostbusters!!). Cool panel. They talked about how the idea of the “Yes, And” is useful in acting and anything, really…instead of shutting down a colleague’s idea and killing any sort of flow, you learn the improv trick of saying, “Yes, and…” and let the story/idea/concept flow. That’s how brilliance is achieved…as opposed to, “that is a terrible idea let’s go home.”

LASTLY…phew! Sarah Lewis discussed her book “The Rise” and “The Story of Creative Icons…from Failure to Mastery.” As Sarah pointed out, “Mastery is not about the arriving, it is about the reach,” and our focus should not be on success, which is a one-time event, but on a commitment to mastery over time. To achieve mastery, we need the mindset of a “deliberate amateur” most of the time meaning…we need to not be afraid to fail. We need to “play,” we need to keep our art or research in a private domain and be careful not to share it too early, because…well, the world will crush you. I liked a lot of the ideas here and want to get the book.

Phew! Day 2 in the books. Onward…

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