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SXSW 2019: What to expect from the annual tech super conference

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
AUSTIN, TEXAS - MAR 11, 2018: SXSW South by Southwest Annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival in Austin, Texas. SXSW sign in Austin Convention Center

South by Southwest isn’t just a convention — it’s an endurance test.

Hundreds of thousands of people converge on Austin, Texas, every year for the popular music, film, and tech festival, which is teeming with fresh talent and idealistic entrepreneurs, all vying for some love and attention. Last year, a record-breaking 309,000 people attended the conference, with the economic impact on the Austin economy from SXSW in 2018 hovering close to $352 million, according to conference organizers.

Yahoo Finance is attending South by Southwest once again, bringing you interviews with members of the tech and film community, including Gemini founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, Facebook Vice President of Small Business Katherine Shappley, actress Olivia Wilde, Alex Gibney, director of HBO's Theranos documentary, European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Facebook investor Roger McNamee, and Black Girls CODE CEO Kimberly Bryant.

Entrepeneurs Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss arrive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala (Met Gala) to celebrate the opening of "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" in the Manhattan borough of New York, May 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Here’s what else you can expect from this year’s SXSW:

One app (or startup) to rule them all

Hundreds of startups flock to Austin every year. Most leave without much fanfare, but one or two have a "moment." In 2007, it was Twitter (TWTR), and in 2009, it was Foursquare. In 2015, it was the smartphone streaming app Meerkat, which was eventually eclipsed in the months that followed by Twitter’s rival streaming app Periscope. But which app or startup will be big this year?

With up to 500,000 people bearing down on Austin this year and many schools and Texas legislature still in session, SXSW could be even more congested than in years past, according to Austin officials. That translates to heavy traffic and long waits for Uber and Lyft rides. Expect electric bikes and scooters from Bird and Lime, which hit the streets of Austin last April to become the go-to vehicles for many SXSW attendees to get around this year. Bird and Lime have played active roles in regulation discussions, as Austin officials have deliberated changing existing transportation rules to also apply to electric bikes and scooters.

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 13: A man and woman (L) ride a shared dockless electric scooter next to bicycles along Venice Beach on August 13, 2018 in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

On the app front, SXSW plans on spotlighting 50 startup finalists for its 2019 SXSW pitch competition. Among the more promising apps and startups: an all-in-one app called Migo that combines all your on-demand transportation options in one app experience, including Uber, Lyft, and Lime. Another app called Ginko allows two smartphone users to skip the old-fashioned business cards and exchange their contact information with one tap of a button inside the app. And a startup called EnrichHER aims to connect female entrepreneurs with financial backers through their online platform.

Notable new films and documentaries

While SXSW frequently gets overshadowed by the Sundance Film Festival, this year’s conference will show some highly awaited films and documentaries.

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2015 file photo, Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, speaks at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco. Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney has premiered his latest documentary on the fraudulent tech startup Theranos at the Sundance Film Festival Thursday night, Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

HBO’s Theranos teardown documentary, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” will be screened several times in town before it airs on HBO on March 18. Gibney, once dubbed “the most important documentarian of our time,” will sit down with Yahoo Finance to discuss the making of his latest, two-hour film: an unflinching look at Elizabeth Holmes and how the former Theranos CEO and Stanford dropout deceived investors.

Another highly awaited film at SXSW? Actress Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, “Booksmart.” With a screenplay that includes contributions from rising comic stars Katie Silberman and Susannah Fogel, “Booksmart” stars indie teen actors Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as a pair of best friends who realize during the last days of high school that they didn’t have as much fun as they should have. So in predictable adolescent fashion, they set about fixing that, in the minimum amount of time.

Wilde and the film’s cast will discuss making the film, which premieres on May 24.

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