SXSW, the annual tech, music, and film meetup held in downtown Austin, is the latest major conference to be cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, and just one week before it was slated to start.
It is the first time in the event’s 34-year history that it’s been cancelled. The festival was scheduled to take place from March 13th to March 22nd, yet Austin Mayor Steve Adler today announced that, amid an escalating number of high-profile speaker and company withdrawals and growing public health concerns, the festival will no longer be taking place.
“I’ve issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest,” Adler said, referencing an emergency order put in place Friday over the coronavirus. The decision will almost certainly be a harsh blow to the city’s economy, as SXSW brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism, ticket sales, and other revenue streams every year. Last year, the festival made $355.9 million for the city of Austin, SXSW said in November.
The private company that organizes SXSW, which has yet to detail its refund policies, made clear in a statement issued on Twitter and its website that this was a decision made by Austin city officials and out of its hands. Yet the festival may end up taking place in some form or another later this year. “We are exploring options to reschedule the event and are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants, starting with SXSW EDU,” reads the full cancellation note on the SXSW website.
For weeks leading up to the event, there were growing concerns about whether it was a smart decision for Austin leaders and the festival organizers to host SXSW, which brings nearly half a million people to a concentrated section of the Texas city’s downtown. The situation became more complicated as US coronavirus cases began spiking in Washington state, where there have so far been at least 11 reported deaths, and rapidly spreading to other parts of the country, including California and New York.
A petition on the website Change.org calling for the event’s cancellation amassed more than 55,000 signatures, and high-profile speakers like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pulled out ahead of the announcement. Amazon, Apple, and Netflix all said they would no longer premiere new film and TV projects at the show, and countless companies — tech firms Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIn, and Intel and news organizations like CNN and Mashable — also withdrew from having official, on-the-ground presences at the festival.
All companies cited health concerns and internal company policies related to nonessential travel restrictions put in place to help reduce employee risk. Some notable attendees had announced that they wouldn’t be attending the show, either, including entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss and musicians like the Beastie Boys, Ozzy Osbourne, and Trent Reznor. Yesterday, Variety reported that the three major music groups — Sony, Universal, and Warner Music — have advised employees not to travel to the festival.