South By Southwest Conference Canceled for First Time in 34 Years

Bowing to immense pressure amid the spread of COVID-19, the city of Austin canceled the South By Southwest conference late Friday, a week before the event was set to begin.

“I have declared a local disaster in the city, and associated with that, I have issued an order that cancels South by Southwest for this year,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

“’The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place,” SXSW organizers said in a statement. “We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.”

One option organizers are exploring is to reschedule the event and possibly provide a virtual SXSW experience “as soon as possible for 2020 participants,” SXSW said in a statement.

The cancellation of SXSW is arguably the highest-profile event yet affected by coronavirus, but the signs were obvious and growing in recent days, as more than 30 big-name attendees canceled their plans to attend the conference, including Apple Inc. (AAPL), Facebook Inc. (FB), Netflix Inc. (NFLX), and AT&T Inc.’s (T) WarnerMedia. Twitter Inc. (TWTR) Chief Jack Dorsey had backed out as a featured speaker, and an online petition signed by more than 50,000 people asked that the technology-film-music annual festival be canceled. SXSW was to take place March 13-22.

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With an estimated $356 million pumped into the local Austin economy last year, SXSW is one of the city’s seminal events. But the fast-growing spread of the novel coronavirus left city officials little choice.

“I’m proud we made a scientific- and health care-based decision with the safety and well being of the community in mind,” Adler said.

With tech conferences either abandoned or turned into online-only events by Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL), (GOOG), Facebook, Adobe Inc. (ADBE), Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO), Nvidia Corp. (NVDA), as well as Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) urging employees to work from home, SXSW faced shrinking odds of coming off.

“I can’t see how they go forward. Once a big name drops out, most others do,” Adam Siegel, entertainment manager at American Agents Brokers Inc., told MarketWatch in a phone interview before SXSW’s cancellation.

“What will be interesting is how other music festivals proceed,” said Siegel, whose insurance company has the Ultra Music Festival as a client. That show in Miami has been postponed.

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Coming up next: Coachella in Indio, Calif., which is still scheduled to take place April 10-12 and 17-19, and the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival, April 23-May 3.

Read more from Jon Swartz at MarketWatch.com

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