South by Southwest festival canceled over coronavirus fears

SXSW is CANCELED amid coronavirus fears: 400,000 people were set to attend legendary tech and movie festival which contributes $355.9 million to the local economy

  • City officials in Austin issued the order cancelling the festival there this month  
  • The festival was supposed to take place between March 13 and March 22
  • Last year’s festival contributed $355.9 million to the local economy 
  • Health officials say the risk of such a gathering is too great due to coronavirus
  • There are no cases in Austin, but attendees would’ve flocked from virus hotspots
  • Major companies such as Facebook, Netflix and Twitter had already backed out 
  • US now has more than 250 confirmed coronavirus cases and 15 deaths 
  • SXSW began in 1987 and was attended by more than 200,000 people in 2018

Officials have canceled the South by Southwest festival that was set to take place in Austin, Texas, over coronavirus fears. 

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said on Friday he was issuing a state of emergency that effectively canceled the event, based on the recommendation of public health officials. 

The festival, known as SXSW – set to take place between March 13 and March 22 – had resisted pressure to cancel or postpone up until this point. 

An economic impact report found that last year’s festival, attended by more than 400,000, contributed $355.9 million to the local economy, making the cancellation a devastating blow to Austin businesses. 

It also could be a major financial hit for SXSW itself, a private company that organizes the festival, depending on its insurance coverage and how it opts to handle refund requests.  

Officials have canceled the South by Southwest festival that was set to take in Austin, Texas, over coronavirus fears. Pictured: Amazon Music’s Nathan Brackett (right) moderates a keynote with The Beastie Boys’ Michael Diamond (left) and Adam Horovitz (center) at the 2019 South by Southwest music festival, March 15

The festival, known was SXSW, was supposed to take place between March 13 and March 22. Pictured: Festivalgoers attend DNES Marketing during the 2019 SXSW Conference, March 15

Mayor Steve Adler said he was issuing a state of emergency that effectively canceled the event

It is just the latest cancellation of a major festival or conference due to coronavirus fears, following the cancellation of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, as well as Facebook F8 and Adobe Summit.

All told, the economic cost of tech events cancelled due to coronavirus has surpassed $1 billion, according to an estimate from ReCode.  

The SXSW cancellation comes just hours after several major companies including Amazon Studios, Netflix,  Facebook and Twitter dropped out of the festival.  

Several appearances had also been canceled by Ozzy Osborne as well as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of the band Nine Inch Nails.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, the county’s top elected official, said no one in the Austin area has been found to have the COVID-19 virus. 

However, South by Southwest was expected to have drawn an international audience into close quarters, posing a serious threat of contagion, particularly as many attendees flock from the virus hotspots of California and Seattle.

Festival organizers said in a statement that they were ‘devastated’ by the necessity of the move.

‘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. We are working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation,’ the organizers said in their statement.

SXSW 2020 has been canceled by the city of Austin amid concerns over the novel coronavirus. The crowd on 6th street in downtown Austin is seen during the 2015 festival

Previously, local health officials said there was no evidence that shutting down the festival would prevent the spread of the virus. 

The festival organizers noted that Austin Public Health had stated as recently as Wednesday that ‘there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.’

‘However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision,’ the organizers added. 

The announcement comes days after several high-profile companies, including Netflix, tech news outlet Mashable, video-based social media platform TikTok and U.S. chip maker Intel, pulled out of the festival.

More than 50,000 people had signed a petition seeking to get the festival cancelled.

Major companies such as Facebook, Netflix and Twitter all backed out of the festival over coronavirus fears. Pictured: SXSW Registrant Lounge is seen during the 2019 SXSW Conference, March 11


Actor Kumail Nanjiani, who had been scheduled to attend the festival to promote ‘The Lovebirds,’ said he was disappointed but that he understood.

‘Sxsw is one of my favorite festivals,’ he tweeted. ‘Canceling it was the responsible thing to go. I know this sucks for many people for whom this was a massive opportunity. But we’re kind of in an unprecedented situation here and caution is key. Thank you for the making the right decision.’

The festival drew 73,716 attendees last year, 19,166 of whom came from outside the U.S. 

Combined with SXSW’s gaming expo and education conference, the 2019 event drew 417,400 attendees, organizers said. 

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus has climbed to 14, with all but one victim in Washington state, while the number of infections swelled to over 200 scattered across at least 18 states, including at least six cases in the Houston area.

South by Southwest, a collection of music, film and interactive conferences annually held in Austin began in 1987.

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