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Digital Savant

Posted: 2:03 p.m. Thursday, March 13, 2014

SXSW Interactive attendance dips for first time since 2002 [Updated: it actually grew] 

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Plenty of celebs, big brands and tech talk at SXSW Interactive 2014
Attendees sit on the floor near the stage to get a closer spot to listen to the session, The New Digital Age, with speakers, Eric Schmidt, Google executive chairman, and Jared Cohen, director Google ideas, moderated by Wired writer, Steven Levy during the first day of SXSW Interactive navigate the halls of the Convention Center in Austin, Texas, on Friday, March 7, 2014.

By Omar L. Gallaga

[Important update: a week later, the festival has revised its numbers to reflect a counting error. Attendance actually grew for SXSW Interactive 2014 to 32,798. Please read this updated post for more information.]

Two days after the conclusion of the 20th year for South by Southwest Interactive, the festival has released attendance numbers. While the number could still rise based on platinum badges sold this week, it appears that attendance at Interactive has dipped for the first time since 2002.

According to the festival, as of Thursday, the number stood at 29,668, compared to 30,621 for 2013's festival. That number includes anyone with an Interactive badge as well as Gold and Platinum badgeholders who had access to SXSW Interactive. The 3 percent drop in attendance is a significant change from the trend of the last few years. In 2013, the festival grew 25 percent, from 25,596 in 2012 to 30,621. Growth rates had ranged from 19 percent to 45 percent since 2006 when the festival rebounded from slowed attendance after the dot-com bust of the early 2000s.

In an interview on Wednesday, festival director Hugh Forrest said festival attendance had been running behind last year's leading up to the event, but the announcement of NSA leaker Edward Snowden as a speaker gave Interactive a bump in last-minute registration. Growth of the fest has been a concern in recent years; hotel space downtown is scarce during SXSW and too many people can lead to crowded panel sessions and congestion, especially when bad weather forces people indoors. Registration prices for Interactive have steadily risen as well, but that did not seem to curb the festival's attendance momentum in recent years.

In Thursday's American-Statesman and online, you can find a wrap-up of the Interactive festival, where crowding and branding were big topics of conversation in addition to the actual discussion topics such as privacy, wearable tech and social good via technology.

We'll have more follow-up on the fest next week. Today we're closely watching events at SXSW Music after a horrific Wednesday night incident left two people dead and many others injured.

Here's a list of attendance since 1995 for Interactive and percentage of change for each year [Updated]:

1995: 1,010(N/A)
1996: 1,356 (34%)
1997: 1,401 (3%)
1998: 1,252 (-10%)
1999: 2,233 (78%)
2000: 3,755 (68%)
2001: 3,155 (-15%)
2002: 3,015 (-4%)
2003: 3,036, (1%)
2004: 3,270 (8%)
2005: 3,343 (2%)
2006: 4,733 (42%)
2007: 6,843 (45%)
2008: 9,052 (32%)
2009: 10,741 (19%)
2010: 14,251 (33%)
2011: 19,364 (36%)
2012: 24,569 (27%)
2013: 30,621 (25%)
2014: 29,668 (-3%)32,798 (7%)
Omar L. Gallaga

About Omar L. Gallaga

Omar L. Gallaga writes about technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. He was a technology correspondent for NPR's "All Things Considered," helping originate the All Tech Considered segment and blog.

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