On Friday, March 6, Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, Texas, announced that the film, music, and interactive industry conference South by Southwest (SXSW) will be canceled by executive order of the city due to fears about spreading the Covid-19 coronavirus.
SXSW was slated to run from March 13 through 22. The beloved convention, part tech conference, part entertainment festival, attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees each year. The cancellation marks the first time in 34 years that the convention will not take place.
“Based on the recommendation of our public health officer and our director of public health, and after our consultation with the city manager, I’ve gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city,” Adler stated at a press conference Friday afternoon. “In association with that, I’ve issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest for this year.”
The executive order, issued by Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, applies countywide and cancels all local public festivals and events. The order will last for seven days, with the potential to be renewed as needed. Eckhardt called it a “data-driven decision” based on the coronavirus outlook.
Although Adler described the convention organizers as fully cooperative in their desire to work with the city, the official statement released by SXSW on Friday described organizers as “devastated” by the decision to cancel. “However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision,” the statement read.
In the days leading up to the cancellation, more than 50,000 people had signed a Change.org petition asking the city to cancel the conference. Major media companies including Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and WarnerMedia had pulled films and planned talent appearances out of the festival. They joined a number of high-profile tech companies that had previously withdrawn from the festival, including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Mashable, and Intel.
Netflix had planned to screen five films (Uncorked, A Secret Love, LA Originals, Mucho Mucho Amor, and Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics). It canceled all of those screenings, as well as a panel with Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and actor/producer Rashida Jones on their upcoming comedy series for the streaming network, #BlackExcellence.
Apple was set to premiere three AppleTV+ originals: Spike Jonze’s documentary Beastie Boys Story, an animated musical series called Central Park, and a docuseries called Homes. It also was going to screen the documentary Boys State, which it acquired at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and to host a panel on Little America with the series’ creators Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.
Amazon canceled screenings and panels scheduled to promote its series Upload and the sci-fi drama Tales of the Loop. WarnerMedia announced via Twitter that it was also canceling “activations” planned for the festival.
The decision will be a costly one, both for the city of Austin in terms of lost revenue and for the many companies expected to attend.
SXSW is cancelled. That brings the direct economic impact of major tech conference cancellations to $1 billion https://t.co/HUmzclZFwo— Rani Molla (@ranimolla) March 6, 2020
Although there are so far no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Austin area, cases in Houston have been detected, and another Austin-based tech conference, Collision 2020, recently made the decision to postpone.
The news came shortly after the announcement that Seattle’s major comics convention, Emerald City Comic Con, scheduled to take place the same weekend as the beginning of SXSW, would be postponed until the summer. Other large upcoming events, including Coachella in California, are still on — for now.