SXSW Partners With Roku for Streaming from Fest

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Sam Smith performs at the Fader Fort at SXSW in Austin, TX on March 13, 2014

South by Southwest has announced today (March 10) it will stream this years' conference offerings on new streaming network SXSW On via Roku players in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Ireland, plus Roku TV in the U.S.

SXSW On will feature "dynamic original programming along with live and archival performances, interviews and talks from the SXSW Music, Film and Interactive conference," according to a statement from the festival. This year's South by Southwest is slated to host 2000 bands and 5400 events among 107 venues.

This year marks the first time the conference will stream content live through its website, YouTube channel and SXSW On simultaneously, according to director of technology Scott Wilcox. Wilcox noted that during SXSW Music will live stream 24 hours each day March 17-22, with 12 hours of original content rebroadcasted.

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"We wanted to bring SXSW into living rooms around the world," he said. "We're really excited about taking these steps."

This year's conference marks Wilcox's 20th year with the 28-year-old organization, at a time when SXSW's recent growth has paralleled that of the tech industry, which feeds attendees largely into SXSW Interactive. This year, it's seeing a change in major sponsors and even culture of attendees.

"Not everybody can come to the event but there certainly is an audience there for people to be a part of it," Wilcox said. "This initiative will allow people to be part of SXSW on their own time. We're thinking 365 days a year."

The content is certain to reach a ton of viewers, according to Roku's vp of content Ed Lee. U.S. sales of Roku's set-top box units reached 10 million last year. And moreover, viewers are sure to stay put.

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"We see usage that is just second-to-none," Lee said, citing an NPD Group study that showed more hours of video streamed from Roku devices than from all other major set-top boxes combined. "People are really highly engaged with the platform."

Programmed streams of conferences from CMJ to CES and major festivals like Coachella and Austin City Limits have become de rigeur for the industry in the last few years. Apple has streamed its own iTunes Festival -- which made its debut stateside last year at SXSW -- on Apple TV since 2007. But SXSW On makes South by Southwest the first to stream both music festival and conference content through a set-top box platform.

SXSW On programs like SXSW Live include live streams from the conference's screens, venues, floors and stages. The Road goes beyond them, looking at the day-to-day challenges and adventures of touring musicians. SXSW On will also feature timely archival content like past keynotes and music performances. And Wilcox sees room to grow.

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"If it makes sense for the filmmaker, there's a tremendous number of short films we screen that could potentially find a larger audience through this outlet, beyond the life of the festival," he said. "That's something we're interested in exploring. For now, we're focused in getting this off the ground... We're excited about all the possibilities this could open for us, but we're very much taking a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach."

SXSW has partnered with video platform Brightcove, Roku streaming channel developer Float Left Interactive and network solutions firm RightRound for the SXSW On venture.