A general view of atmosphere at the screening of 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' during the 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at the Paramount Theatre on March 8, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, Texas -- Like a living, breathing creature, SXSWi is evolving into a different beast.
Once a haven for geek chic, the 5-day intersection of technology, music and film is taking on aspects of larger, more mainstream tech conferences like the Consumer Electronics Show and Mobile World Congress.
"There is an interesting blur between CES and SXSW," says Donald Chesnut, chief experience officer at SapientNitro, an interactive-marketing agency. "You're seeing sensors, cheap hardware, 3-D printers. SXSW will look more like CES next year and the year after that."
The hardware invasion, on top of a sea of apps, has created an overwhelming amount of product noise and marketing buzz that makes it even harder to stand out, says Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley.
"There's really no theme this year, as there has been with group-messaging and geolocation services the past few years," says Crowley, whose company is one of the few breakout stars during SXSW's 20-year run.
"A lot of what I see are attempts to replace existing apps," Crowley says. "There has been no standout yet."
In the case of SapientNitro, the show has shifted from a platform to attend sessions and recruit employees to building relationships with clients and spotting trends, according to Gaston Legorburu, who oversees Sapient's creative vision.
"In some sense, SXSW jumped the shark a year or two ago," Chesnut says. "This year, you see a blend of the physical and digital worlds."