SXSW Cancels 2020 Edition Amid Exits Over Coronavirus

SXSW 2020
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UPDATED with more details: SXSW said Friday that it has made the decision to cancel its 2020 edition that was to begin next week. The move comes as more and more companies were opting out of attending the annual Austin festival over concerns about the worldwide coronavirus epidemic that has dominated the global conversation.

“We are devastated to share this news with you,” the festival said today, adding that it was following the city’s lead in making the call.

“As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that “There’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer,” the festival said. “However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision. We are committed to do our part to help protect our staff, attendees, and fellow Austinites.”

Officials said they 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.” It is the first cancellation in the fest’s 34 years.

Companies like ViacomCBS, WarnerMedia, ICM Partners, Starz, Lionsgate, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter  already exited the annual event, which was scheduled for March 13-22. The festival draws thousands to the state capital each year for its buzzy, indie-focused film, TV, tech, and music programming.

Coronavirus has sickened almost 100,000 worldwide since it first emerged in China in late December. The global death toll is nearing 4,000, according to the World Heath Organization. More than 200 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the US in 18 states, killing 11, according to the US.Centers for Disease Control. As of Friday, there were six reported cases in Texas, all in the Houston area.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said at a news conference Friday that he has declared a “local disaster.” As of yesterday, there were no confirmed coronavirus cases in the city’s Travis County.

The tech-focused Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok were among the first companies to exit SXSW, as organizations began instituting measures like restricting non-essential travel to protect employees from potential exposure. The list had grown over the past week to include ViacomCBS’ Paramount Network and Comedy Central, Starz, Lionsgate, Netflix, Apple and Amazon, many of which had planned premieres of their fare, heavier on TV than film.

The decision to cancel comes as several large-scale events ponder what to do in the face of the potential pandemic, which is expected to grow in scope worldwide as more testing becomes available. In the entertainment industry, the international TV conference MipTV in Cannes was canceled this week, raising the possibility that another major industry event in that city — the Cannes Film Festival — could see the same fate for its upcoming May edition.

Other events postponed or canceled include annual developer conferences at Facebook and Google, Disney+’s splashy European launch event, and several film festivals. Movie theaters are closed in China and parts of South Korea and Italy, with the movie industry impact, including tentpole James Bond pic No Time to Die, moving off its early April release date to Thanksgiving week in hopes COVID-19 will be contained by then.

SXSW, meanwhile, has served as a launchpad for studio product, but has always been an indie-forward festival, a buzz event for smaller films and companies to flaunt their wares.

“We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses – venues, theaters, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts,” the festival said today in its statement.

“We will continue to work hard to bring you the unique events you love. Though it’s true that our March 2020 event will no longer take place in the way that we intended, we continue to strive toward our purpose – helping creative people achieve their goals.”

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