South by Southwest, abbreviated as SXSW and colloquially referred to as South By, is an annual conglomeration of parallel film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences organized jointly that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas, United States. It began in 1987 and has continued to grow in both scope and size every year. In 2017, the conference lasted for 10 days with the interactive track lasting for five days, music for seven days, and film for nine days. SXSW is run by the company SXSW, LLC, which organizes conferences, trade shows, festivals, and other events. In addition to the three main South by Southwest festivals, the company runs other conferences: SXSW EDU, a conference on educational innovation, held in Austin, and the me Convention (started in 2017), held in Frankfurt, Germany and in Stockholm, Sweden, in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz. Former conferences run by the SXSW organization include SXSW Eco, a conference focusing on social and environmental issues through the lens of technology, creativity and design held in Austin from 2011 to 2016; and another in Las Vegas: SXSW V2V, a conference focused on innovative startups, which ran from 2013 to 2015. Previously, SXSW produced music festivals North by Northwest (NXNW) in Portland, Oregon, North by Northeast (NXNE) in Toronto, and West by Southwest (WXSW) in Tucson, Arizona. There was no in-person SXSW in either 2020 or 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; both years, there was a smaller online event instead. In April 2021, Penske Media Corporation purchased a 50% stake in SXSW.
South by Southwest Genre Conference and festival Dates March (dates vary but generally coinciding with University of Texas at Austin spring break and also usually includes St. Patrick's Day) Frequency Annual Location(s) Austin, Texas, U.S. Years active 34 Inaugurated 1987 Founders Roland Swenson, Louis Jay Meyers, Louis Black, Nick Barbaro Next event March 2022 (dates TBD) Attendance Organized by SXSW, LLC Website sxsw.com
South by Southwest, abbreviated as SXSW and colloquially referred to as South By, is an annual conglomeration of parallel film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences organized jointly that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas, United States. It began in 1987 and has continued to grow in both scope and size every year. In 2017, the conference lasted for 10 days with the interactive track lasting for five days, music for seven days, and film for nine days.
SXSW is run by the company SXSW, LLC, which organizes conferences, trade shows, festivals, and other events. In addition to the three main South by Southwest festivals, the company runs other conferences: SXSW EDU, a conference on educational innovation, held in Austin, and the me Convention (started in 2017), held in Frankfurt, Germany and in Stockholm, Sweden, in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz. Former conferences run by the SXSW organization include SXSW Eco, a conference focusing on social and environmental issues through the lens of technology, creativity and design held in Austin from 2011 to 2016; and another in Las Vegas: SXSW V2V, a conference focused on innovative startups, which ran from 2013 to 2015. Previously, SXSW produced music festivals North by Northwest (NXNW) in Portland, Oregon, North by Northeast (NXNE) in Toronto, and West by Southwest (WXSW) in Tucson, Arizona.
There was no in-person SXSW in either 2020 or 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; both years, there was a smaller online event instead.
In April 2021, Penske Media Corporation purchased a 50% stake in SXSW.
SXSW Music is the largest music festival of its kind in the world, with more than 2,000 acts as of 2014. SXSW Music offers artist-provided music and video samples of featured artists at each festival via their official YouTube channel.
The music event has grown from 700 registrants in 1987, the first year of the conference, to over 161,000 attendees in 2018. SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive events have grown every year, bringing over 32,000 registrants to Austin in March 2013.
Bands must cover their own expenses for travel and lodging at the event. All performers are offered a cash payment or a wristband package that allows access to all music events.
SXSW Film Conference spans five days of conference panels and sessions, and welcomes filmmakers of all levels. Programming consists of keynote speakers, panels, workshops, mentor sessions and more, with expert filmmakers and industry leaders.
In 2015, the SXSW Film Conference programmed over 250 sessions with 735 speakers. Past speakers include Jon Favreau, Mark Duplass, Ava DuVernay, Ryan Gosling, Nicolas Cage, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Tilda Swinton, Amy Schumer, Sally Field, Joss Whedon, Christine Vachon, RZA, Matthew McConaughey, Danny Boyle, Seth MacFarlane, Catherine Hardwicke, Richard Linklater, David Gordon Green, Harmony Korine, Henry Rollins, Sarah Green and Robert Rodriguez. Although the film festival often highlights independently produced films and emerging directing talent with unique visions, the festival has long served studios as a starting point for their comedies, using enthusiastic fans as a barometer of how they might play in wide release.
The SXSW Film Festival runs nine days, simultaneously with the SXSW Film Conference, and celebrates raw innovation and emerging talent both behind and in front of the camera. Festival programming categories include: Special Events, Headliners, Narrative Spotlight, Documentary Spotlight, Narrative Competition, Documentary Competition, Visions, Midnighters, 24 Beats Per Second, SXGlobal, Episodic, Festival Favorites, and Short Film Programs. The SXSW Film Awards, which occur on the last day of the Film Conference, honor films selected by the Feature and Short Film Juries.
In 2015, the SXSW Film Festival programmed 150 feature films and 106 short films, selected from 7,361 submissions. Past notable world premieres include Furious 7, Neighbors, Chef, 21 Jump Street, The Cabin in the Woods, Dance of the Dead, Bridesmaids and Insidious, and the TV series Girls, Silicon Valley and Penny Dreadful.
SXSW Interactive is focused on emerging technology. The festival includes a trade show, speakers, parties, and a startup accelerator.
Inauguration – 1980s
In July 1986, the organizers of the New York City music festival New Music Seminar contacted Roland Swenson, a staffer at the alternative weekly The Austin Chronicle, to talk about organizing an extension of that festival into Austin. They thereafter announced they were going to hold a "New Music Seminar Southwest". The plans did not materialize, however, so Swenson decided to instead co-organize a local music festival, with the help of two other people at the Chronicle: editor and co-founder Louis Black, and publisher Nick Barbaro. Louis Meyers, a booking agent and musician, was also brought on board. Black came up with the name, as a play on the name of the Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest. (While Southwest by South is an actual point on a compass, South by Southwest is not.)
The event was first held in March 1987. The organizers considered it a regional event and expected around 150 attendees to show up, but over 700 came, and according to Black "it was national almost immediately." Meyers left Austin and the festival in the early 1990s, but Black, Barbaro and Swenson remained the festival's key organizers as of 2010.
Singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked was the keynote speaker at the 1992 South by Southwest. She caused controversy by delivering a speech, written by her then-husband Bart Bull, criticizing white musicians for stealing music from African American artists; and then later during the same conference when she tried to kick the band Two Nice Girls off of a benefit concert, a move that some called anti-gay, due to Two Nice Girls' overtly lesbian image.
In 1993, SXSW moved into the Austin Convention Center, where it is still held.
In 1994, SXSW added a component for film and other media, named the "SXSW Film and Multimedia Conference". Johnny Cash was the keynote speaker.
That year, the three brothers of the band Hanson were brought to SXSW by their father in order to perform impromptu auditions for music executives, in the hopes of getting industry attention. Among the people who heard them was A&R executive Christopher Sabec, who became their manager, and would soon afterward get them signed to Mercury Records.
In 1995, the SXSW Film and Multimedia Conference was split into two separate events, "SXSW Film" and "SXSW Multimedia". In 1999, SXSW Multimedia was renamed "SXSW Interactive".
A performance by the band The Polyphonic Spree at the 2002 SXSW Music festival helped bring them to national attention before they had signed with a major label.
British singer James Blunt was discovered by producer Linda Perry while playing a small show at the 2004 SXSW Music festival, and was signed to Perry's Custard Records soon thereafter, where he would go on to release all three of his subsequent albums.
The 2005 SXSW Film is considered by some to be the origin of the mumblecore film genre. A number of films now classified as mumblecore, including The Puffy Chair, Kissing on the Mouth, Four Eyed Monsters and Mutual Appreciation, were screened, and Eric Masunaga, a musician and the sound editor on Mutual Appreciation, is credited with coining the term "mumblecore" at a bar while at the festival.
The film Hooligans won both the Feature Film Jury Award and the Feature Film Audience Award for narrative feature, while The Puffy Chair won the Feature Film Audience Award in the "Emerging Visions" category. The documentary film Cowboy del Amor won the SXSW Competition Award and the Audience Award.
That year, "Screenburn at SXSW", a component for video games, was added to SXSW Interactive.
The 2007 music festival took place from March 14 to 18, and more than 1,400 acts performed.
The 2008 SXSW Interactive got media attention due to a keynote interview of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg by technology journalist Sarah Lacy that was considered by some observers to be a "train wreck" due to an audience perception that Lacy was asking uninteresting questions, as well as mocking or terse answers in response from Zuckerberg.
In 2008, a comedy element was added to SXSW; it was held for one night. (By 2012, comedy performances occurred on all nights of the festival.)
The 2009 festival was held March 13–22. The Interactive section of SXSW in particular drew larger attendance levels; the influx strained the networks of providers such as AT&T (primarily due to heavy iPhone usage). Also new was the founding of an international organization for those not attending, dubbed NotAtSXSW. Coordinating through Twitter and other online tools, notatsxsw events were held in London, New York, Wisconsin, Portland, Oregon and Miami.
2009 also saw the first Indian classical music artists perform at SXSW. Canadians Cassius Khan, a renowned tabla player and singer performed with Amika Kushwaha on harmonium and were featured Canadians on CBC Canada's most favorite list.
The 2009 SXSW Film screened 250 films, including 54 world premieres. The event was notable for having the United States premiere of the film The Hurt Locker, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2010. The winners of the feature jury awards were, for documentary feature, 45365, and for narrative feature, Made in China.
The 2010 music festival, which took place March 12–21, was dedicated to Alex Chilton, who died shortly before he was to perform with Big Star. A tribute concert was performed in his honor on March 20, 2010.
At the 2010 festival, nearly 2,000 bands were officially scheduled to perform, and festival reps estimated that over 13,000 industry representatives attended. Though traditionally the Austin Music Awards kick off the festival, that year organizers slated it as the closing act. Local musician Bob Schneider earned 6 awards, including Song of the Year, Singer of the Year, and Band of the Year (with Lonelyland.) The 2010 festival was also notable for appearances by the surviving members of the band Moby Grape.
At the 2010 Film festival, Magnolia Pictures bought the film rights to the science-fiction film Monsters on the night it screened, in what was the first-ever "overnight acquisition" at SXSW. Journalist Meredith Melnick of Time magazine called this purchase a turning point for SXSW, leading to a greater interest among film studio executives in attending the festival in person. That year also saw the premiere of the indie favorite Tiny Furniture, which won the award for Best Narrative Feature.
The 2010 Interactive festival had an estimated 12–13,000 paying attendees, which represented a 40% jump over the previous year. This was the first year in which the interactive festival's attendance surpassed the music festival's. The keynote presentation was an interview of then-Twitter CEO Evan Williams by Umair Haque, an interview that many in the audience found disappointingly superficial. Also during the interactive festival, the first-ever (and so far only) "Hive Awards For the Unsung Heroes of the Internet" were held.
The 2011 SXSW festival ran from March 11 to 20.
The keynote presenter for SXSW Interactive was Seth Priebatsch, founder and CEO of the mobile-gaming platform SCVNGR. The 2011 Interactive festival was by far the largest it had ever been, with an estimated 20,000 attendees.
At least two films screened at the SXSW Film festival gained distribution deals: the documentary Undefeated (which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature) and the thriller The Divide. As a result, film critic Christopher Kelly wrote that in 2011, SXSW Film went from being "a well-regarded but fundamentally regional event" to having "joined the big leagues of film festivals around the world." That festival was also notable for having the premiere of the film Bridesmaids.
The March 15 screening of the Foo Fighters documentary Back and Forth was followed by a surprise live performance by the band itself, with a setlist that included the entirety of the then-upcoming album Wasting Light.
SXSW 2012 ran from March 9 to 18.
The standout technology of the 2012 SXSW Interactive was generally stated to be "social discovery" mobile apps, which let users locate other nearby users. Social discovery apps that had a presence at SXSW included Highlight, Glancee, Sonar and Kismet.
SXSW Film saw the premiere of two major Hollywood films: The Cabin in the Woods and 21 Jump Street. Two films obtained distribution deals: Girls Against Boys and The Tall Man. Another film, Gimme the Loot, which won the SXSW Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize, got a distribution deal a week after the festival. Bay of All Saints received the Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary.
2012 was also the first year the music portion was expanded to Tuesday. The musical festival included rappers such as Talib Kweli and Lil' Wayne, along with surprise appearances by Big Sean and Kanye West; indie bands that appeared included MENEW and The Shins. Bruce Springsteen was the keynote speaker for the music festival.
SXSW 2013 ran from March 8 to 17.
The big-budget films The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Evil Dead premiered at the 2013 SXSW Film, and Spring Breakers had its U.S. premiere. The film Short Term 12 won the grand jury award for Best Narrative Feature. The films Awful Nice, Cheap Thrills, and Haunter received distribution deals, and Drinking Buddies obtained a distribution deal several days later.
The 2013 SXSW Interactive saw another huge jump in registration, now with 30,621 paying attendees. This was over three times the number that had attended in 2008 (9,000), just five years previously. The keynote talk for the 2013 SXSW Interactive was given by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. The "Screenburn" and "Arcade" components were renamed to "SXSW Gaming" and "SXSW Gaming Expo", respectively. The Interactive conference had an increased corporate presence, featuring major participation by Samsung, 3M, Target, American Airlines, Adobe Systems and AT&T, among others. According to CNN, CBS and CNET called Grumpy Cat the undisputed "biggest star" of SXSW Interactive over Musk, Al Gore and Neil Gaiman.
SXSW 2014 ran from March 7 to 16.
SXSW Film had premieres of the big-budget films Neighbors, Veronica Mars and Chef, and Cesar Chavez had its North American premiere. A clip for the big-budget film Godzilla was also screened. The films Space Station 76 and Exists got distribution deals at the festival, while Fort Tilden (which won the Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize) and Open Windows got distribution deals shortly afterward.
A new section, "Episodic" (on television programming) was introduced to SXSW Film. Television series that previewed at the festival include Silicon Valley and From Dusk till Dawn: The Series. The talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! was taped for a week at the festival; it joined the talk show Watch What Happens: Live, which began taping at SXSW in 2013.
SXSW Interactive featured a keynote speech by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, via streaming video, about privacy rights. The festival also featured a talk from another famous leaker, Julian Assange, also speaking remotely. Besides privacy issues, another major focus of the Interactive festival was wearable technology, including devices for augmented reality, activity tracking, identity authentication, charging cell phones and others. Computerworld magazine called the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality gaming headset, the "sleeper hit" of the festival, although it was displayed not at the Interactive but at the Film portion, as part of a Game of Thrones exhibit. The SXSW Gaming section introduced its SXSW Gaming Awards to recognize achievement in video and other types of gaming, which has continued through future SXSW festivals.
On March 13, 2014, a drunk driver, Rashad Charjuan Owens, drove his car into a crowd of festival attendees while trying to evade a traffic stop. Two people were killed immediately, another two died later from their injuries and another 21 were injured but survived. Owens was convicted of capital murder charges after a November 2015 trial in which eyewitnesses testified that about "a chaotic and harrowing scene" on the night, as hundreds of people ran and screamed as the car sped through crowds of people. Owens was given an automatic sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
On March 15, 2014, rapper Tyler, the Creator was arrested on misdemeanor charges of "inciting to riot" after yelling to fans to push their way past security guards at a sold-out show the previous day. In February 2016, the riot charges were dropped against Tyler, The Creator pursuant to a plea agreement with prosecutors (under which the rapper pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of disorderly conduct and paid a $100 fine, with the case to be dismissed if he stays out of trouble for three months).
SXSW 2015 took place from March 13 to 22.
SXSW Film screened 145 feature films, an all-time high for the festival. The big-budget films Furious 7 (which was a last-minute addition to the lineup), Get Hard, Spy, a rough cut of Trainwreck, Moonwalkers and The Final Girls had their world premieres, as did the documentaries Danny Says, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine and Brand: A Second Coming. Ex Machina had its North American premiere. 6 Years, Manson Family Vacation and Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine all got distribution deals at the festival.
The 2015 festival hosted the swearing-in ceremony of Michelle K. Lee as the new head of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker administered the oath of office to Lee at the festival on Friday, March 13.
Various sources called Meerkat, an iOS app that had launched two weeks earlier that lets users livestream video via Twitter, the breakout technology of SXSW Interactive. Another product that got significant buzz was a prototype of the roadable aircraft AeroMobil.
SXSW 2016 began on March 11 and ended on March 20.
On March 11, President Barack Obama gave a speech at SXSW Interactive in which he called on the technology industry to help solve many of America's problems, such as upgrading outdated networks, helping balance security and privacy, and the FBI–Apple encryption dispute.
On the night of March 20, gunshots rang out on 6th Street causing mass hysteria and panic. No injuries were reported and a man from Memphis was arrested with discharging a firearm and disturbing the peace.
Films that premiered at SXSW Film include Song to Song, Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Gemini, The Ballad of Lefty Brown. Spettacolo and The Disaster Artist. Television shows that were previewed include The Son, Dear White People and American Gods. To promote the Hulu original series The Handmaid's Tale, dozens of actresses silently walked the streets of downtown Austin costumed in red "handmaid" dresses. To promote the third season of the AMC original series Better Call Saul (a spin-off prequel of Breaking Bad), a pop-up "Los Pollos Hermanos" restaurant, representing the fictional fast food chain featured in both series, appeared in downtown Austin.
Guest speakers included former mayor of Newark, NJ and current Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), political activist and commentator Van Jones and former Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke about his cancer research initiative. Nile Rodgers gave the keynote address for the music portion of the festival, while filmmakers Gareth Edwards and Lee Daniels gave the keynote presentations for the film portion.
Major performers during the music component of the festival included Garth Brooks, Lana Del Rey, Lil Yachty, The Roots, The Avett Brothers, Willie Nelson, Solange Knowles, Rae Sremmurd, Cardiel, Migos, and The Chainsmokers among others.
En route to SXSW 2017, Italian post-punk band Soviet Soviet, traveling on the Visa Waiver Program, was denied entry to the United States, detained overnight and deported after an immigration officer at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport claimed they were planning on conducting a paid performance, which would have required a work visa. The band presented a letter from their American record label stating that both their performances at KEXP (which was what had brought the band to Seattle) and at SXSW were for promotional purposes only, but this failed to convince officials at the airport. There was a "Contrabanned" showcase on March 17, featuring various artists and musicians (residents of the U.S. and Canada) who are natives of, or have family connections to, countries affected by the 2017 U.S. travel ban.
Uber and Lyft were not available to attendees because they had pulled out of Austin in May 2016 as a result of a city ordinance mandating fingerprint-based background checks for drivers of any ridesharing company. However, other services such as (locally based) RideAustin, Fasten and Fare, were available, although in high demand. Uber and Lyft resumed service in Austin in May 2017.
SXSW 2018 ran from March 9 to 18.
Finalists of the 2018 SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event included Cambridge Cancer Genomics and Bluefield Technologies. Two winners of the event were Austin-based: GrubTubs (in the Hyper-Connected Communities category) and ICON 3D (in the Social and Culture category).
Guest speakers included politicians Bernie Sanders, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sadiq Khan; journalists Christiane Amanpour and Ta-Nehisi Coates; filmmakers Barry Jenkins, Darren Aronofsky and Steven Spielberg; and others including Elon Musk and David Banner. Actor and comedian Bill Murray appeared at several unofficial functions during SXSW.
Major performers during SXSW Music included Tinashe, Rae Sremmurd, Rita Coolidge, Salt-N-Pepa and Khalid. There was an apparent increased emphasis on locally based performers, international acts and relative unknowns.
New games announced during the 2018 SXSW Gaming Expo included Sonic Mania Plus. At the SXSW Gaming Awards (held March 17), the award for Game of the Year went to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Films that premiered at the 2018 South By Southwest Film Festival include A Quiet Place, Blockers and Ready Player One. Films that had their U.S. premiere include Final Portrait and Who We Are Now. The film Thunder Road won the grand jury prize. TV series that previewed include Barry, Krypton, The Last O.G. and Cloak & Dagger. To promote the second season of the HBO series Westworld, a recreation of the show's fictional Western "town" of Sweetwater was built on two acres of open land just outside Austin. Fans took shuttles to the site, which was dressed in the Old West style, with over 60 actors playing the parts of the android "hosts".
SXSW 2018 coincided with a string of bombings in Austin, which had begun on March 2 and ended on March 21, when the presumed perpetrator, Mark Anthony Conditt, blew himself up after being discovered by police. Two of the bombings occurred during SXSW. On March 17, Live Nation Music, a company organizing events for SXSW, received a bomb threat via email. Police searched the area mentioned in the email and found nothing of concern, but planned performances by The Roots and Ludacris, among others, were canceled. Police arrested 26-year-old Trevor Weldon Ingram the next day; Ingram was charged with making a terroristic threat, a third-degree felony, in connection with the email.
South by Southwest 2019 ran from March 8 to 17.
Films entered at SXSW Film included Us, The Beach Bum, Long Shot, Booksmart and The Highwaymen. TV series that previewed included FX’s What We Do in the Shadows, Hulu’s Shrill and OWN’s David Makes Man.
At the SXSW Gaming Awards (held March 16), the award for Game of the Year went to God of War.
Major performers for SXSW Music included Edie Brickell & New Bohemians (their first-ever appearance at SXSW).
Winners of the 2019 SXSW Pitch event, in which emerging startups pitch to potential investors, included Derq, Pathway and ENZO Tyres. The “Best In Show" winner was Nebula Genomics; the “Best Bootstrap" award went to TwentyTables and the “Best Speed Pitch” went to Xplosion Tech.
Some of the first forums of the 2020 presidential race took place at SXSW, with Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang all making appearances at the festival (though some had not yet announced their candidacy at the time). Other scheduled guest speakers included politicians Mazie Hirono and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; musicians David Byrne and Wyclef Jean; actors and comedians Aidy Bryant, Kathy Griffin, Ethan Hawke, Trevor Noah and Zoe Saldana; businessmen Tim Ferriss, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Guy Kawasaki; and others including Priscilla Chan, Neil Gaiman, Valerie Jarrett, Bill Nye, Robert Rodriguez and Maria Shriver.
South by Southwest 2020 was scheduled to run from March 13 to 22, but was officially canceled on March 6 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the result of an order by the city of Austin. The city's Mayor Steve Adler announced the cancellation of the 2020 SXSW and also declared a local disaster area.
In the month prior to the conference, SXSW organizers had resisted calls to cancel the conference. On February 28, a spokesperson said:
The SXSW 2020 event is proceeding as planned. Safety is a top priority for SXSW, and we work closely with local, state, and federal agencies year-round to plan for a safe event. Where travel has been impacted, especially in the case of China, we are seeing a handful of cancellations. However, we are on par with years past in regard to registrants who are unable to attend. We are increasing our efforts to prevent the spread of disease per Austin Public Health’s recommendations. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will provide updates as necessary.
However, in the run up to the conference, numerous companies and organizations began canceling their SXSW attendance, including Twitter, Facebook, Vevo, Intel, Mashable, Universal Music Group, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, TikTok, SAP, Netflix, Apple, Indeed, WarnerMedia, The Washington Post, and IBM. Additionally, many individual attendees, headliners and speakers had decided not to attend, including keynote speaker Tim Ferriss and artists such as the Beastie Boys, Ozzy Osbourne and Trent Reznor.
An online petition was started that called for SXSW 2020 to be canceled due to health concerns; by the time of the cancellation, it exceeded 50,000 signatures.
SXSW organizers said that they were "devastated" by the cancellation, stating that, "'The show must go on' is in our DNA." They wrote that they were attempting to reschedule the event, and were at the same time working to create an online SXSW for 2020.
SXSW co-founder Nick Barbaro said the organization did not have cancellation insurance relating to a disease pandemic or triggered by the city declaring a “local state of disaster.”
Various unofficial SXSW events, as well as “alternative” SXSW events, did occur, in an attempt to help local workers and businesses who would be hurt most by the cancellation. The Austin Community Foundation also launched a "Stand with Austin Fund" for donations to "individuals and small businesses most negatively impacted by the cancellation of SXSW and least able to recover on their own."
On March 13, 2020, festival organizers announced that they would proceed with juried and special awards, with judges viewing submissions online. On March 24, the winners of the 2020 SXSW Gaming Awards were announced on the SXSW website, and the honorees recorded acceptance messages for the SXSW YouTube channel and website. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was awarded Video Game of the Year.
On April 2, SXSW announced a joint venture with Amazon Prime Video to launch a film festival collection. Filmmakers scheduled to screen films at SXSW were given the option to have their films play exclusively, and for free, on Prime Video in the U.S. for a 10-day "virtual film festival".
In May, SXSW organizers announced "SXSW Sessions Online," a weekly series of online discussions to run through June, with some of the previously announced guest speakers; each video session was streamed online with Q&A portions made available initially to those originally registered for the festival. All sessions were posted afterwards on the SXSW YouTube channel.
A virtual SXSW ran from March 16 to 20.
Films and miniseries that premiered at SXSW include Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil, Hysterical, Jakob's Wife, Violet, Dear Mr. Brody, Here Before, The Fallout, The Lost Sons, Introducing, Selma Blair, Lily Topples the World, Not Going Quietly, The Return: Life After ISIS, Fruits of Labor and United States vs. Reality Winner.
Featured speakers included Samantha Bee, Richard Branson, Chiquis Rivera, Tim Ellis, Laurieann Gibson, Taraji P. Henson, Rana el Kaliouby, Matthew McConaughey, Adriene Mishler, and Alexi Pappas. Keynote addresses were given by Stacey Abrams, Pete Buttigieg and Willie Nelson.
Organizers of SXSW intend to hold an in person event in 2022.
SXSW is the highest revenue-producing event outside of athletic and other events associated with The University of Texas at Austin for the Austin economy, with an estimated economic impact of $190.3 million in 2012 increasing to $218 million in 2013, $315 million in 2014, $317 million in 2015, and $325 million in 2016. (In comparison, Super Bowl LI brought a $347 million economic impact to the Houston economy and the 2017 Final Four brought a $324 million economic impact to the economy of Phoenix, Arizona.)
Additionally, demand for hotel rooms in the Austin area continued to outstrip supply, pushing average nightly room rates up to an all-time high of $350 in 2016, a 60 percent increase over the average room rate seen during 2011's edition of SXSW. The average SXSW registrant also stayed in Austin longer in 2016, spending an average of 5.2 nights, up from 4.9 nights in 2015.
The 2014 drunk-driving incident prompted discussion about whether the festival had grown too large and raucous. The organizers of the festival—SXSW Holdings LLC and SXSW Holdings Inc.—were sued by families of the four victims.
In May 2014, partially motivated by the 2014 crash, Austin's Urban Transportation Commission announced that it was seeking to enhance safety at the festival, with an initial focus on implementing transportation measures to resolve issues linked to the festival. The Austin Music Commission also met to discuss music venues and sound problems linked to the festival. The city voted to limit the number of special events which would be approved to 114, a 32 percent decrease from the number of approved events during the 2014 festival.
In 2013, NPR writer Andrea Swensson wrote that she had decided to stop attending the festival, writing, "I can't help but feel that it has strayed far away from its original premise as a grassroots gathering place for new, undiscovered talent and increasingly feels like a big ol' Times Square billboard-sized commercial."
In October 2015, SXSW cancelled two video game panels ("#SavePoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community" and "Level Up: Overcoming Harassment In Games") scheduled for the 2016 festival due to threats of violence made to the festival hosting the sessions. In response to the cancellations, Buzzfeed and Vox Media made statements saying they would pull out of the festival if the two panels weren't reinstated. Organizers then apologized for the cancellations. In lieu of a panel, South by Southwest hosted a daylong "online harassment summit" on March 12, 2016.
- Comedian and actor Fred Armisen began his comic career with the short film Fred Armisen's Guide to Music and SXSW, released in 1998, in which he poses as various characters, asking silly questions of musicians and other attendees at that year's SXSW Music Conference.
- SXSW was featured during the 2005 season of MTV's The Real World. Cast members were tasked with shooting and editing their own documentary on the music festival.
- Comedy duo and band Flight of the Conchords performed at the 2006 SXSW Music Festival, during which time they also recorded a documentary titled Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey, which aired on New Zealand's TV3 in late 2006.
- The 2011 documentary Winning America is about a US tour of Canadian band Said the Whale that culminates in that year's SXSW Music Festival.
- In the 2014 British film Frank, an experimental band (led by the title character) is booked to play a show at the SXSW Music Festival, but the gig leads to the band's breakup.
- In the 2019 anime Carole & Tuesday, the titular duo is booked to perform at the SXSW Music Festival.
The creators of South by Southwest co-created two similar festivals in 1995: North by Northwest (NXNW) in Portland, Oregon (co-founded by the Willamette Week), and North by Northeast (NXNE) in Toronto (co-founded by Now). North by Northwest ended in 2001, and was replaced by MusicfestNW (MFNW), an event run entirely by the Willamette Week. It was joined by TechfestNW, a technology conference, in 2012. From 2006 to 2010, SXSW organizers also ran West by Southwest (WXSW) in Tucson, Arizona, a music festival which occurred directly before South by Southwest and mostly featured bands that were also booked for SXSW.
Other active festivals inspired by SXSW include the following:
- Web Summit – Lisbon, Portugal
- Live at Heart – Örebro, Sweden
- The Goa Project – Goa, India
- The Great Escape Festival – Brighton, England
- Tech Open Air (TOA) – Berlin
- XOXO – Portland, Oregon
Festivals inspired by SXSW that are no longer running include:
- 35 Denton (originally known as "North by 35" or "NX35", then "35 Conferette") – Denton, Texas (2009–2016)
- C2SV (originally known as "SVSX") – San Jose, California (2012–2016)
- Incubate (originally known as "ZXZW") – Tilburg, Netherlands (2005–2016)
- MidPoint Music Festival (MPMF) – Cincinnati, Ohio (2001–2017)
- MoSo – Saskatoon, Canada (2011–2016)
- North by North Western (NXNW) - Wigan, England (2007-2009)
- So What?! Music Fest (originally known as "South by So What?!") – Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex (2006–2017)
- Sounds by South Bend (originally known as "South by South Bend") – South Bend, Indiana (2013–2015)
- South by Due East – Houston, Texas (2003-2019)
- Yes and Yes Yes (YXYY) (originally known as "Yes by Yes Yes") – Palm Springs, California (2013–2017)
Festivals inspired by South by Southwest have been collectively nicknamed "four-letter festivals". Metro Silicon Valley, which founded C2SV, wrote in 2013 that such festivals were important revenue sources for the alternative weekly newspapers that founded them.
On October 3, 2016, a one-day festival, called "South by South Lawn" (SXSL), was held at the White House; it was a collaboration between SXSW, US President Barack Obama, and the American Film Institute.
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