SXSW Announces Online Festival for 2021

Austin's annual music, film and tech conference is moving online, but that doesn't necessarily preclude an in-person event

Next year's SXSW will move online
Gary Miller/Getty Images

In the first honest admission from the entertainment and tech industry that 2021 isn’t going to look a lot different from 2020, the annual South by Southwest festival just announced it is moving online next year.

SXSW Online will take place virtually from March 16 through March 20, 2021 and include movie screenings, keynote speeches, conferences and more, Pitchfork reported.

“The challenge of building a new future is one that we’re excited to tackle,” said SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson in a statement. “This has been such a year of change and we, like the entire world, are reshaping our perspective on how we connect. We’re pleased to be working on SXSW Online as part of our program for 2021, and regardless of platform, we will continue to bring together the brightest minds from creative industries worldwide.”

Last year’s conference was abruptly called off when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic just days before SXSW was set to start. And that cancellation hurt: According to Marketplace, SXSW had a $355.9 million impact on the economy of Austin, Texas in 2019. The festival had to lay off about a third of its full-time staff, or 60 people, after the cancellation. 

According to Austin 360, registrants for SXSW 2020 originally had an option of deferring their passes until 2021, 2022 or 2023, and anyone who chose 2021 will have the option of changing to 2022; as well, all 2020 paid registrants have access to 2021 SXSW Online programming.

And organizers are still hoping for some kind of physical presence for the festival. “It’s pretty hard to tell [about in-person events], but I think it’s possible,” Swenson told Austin 360. “I wouldn’t want to put a percentage on it.” A move to a later date is also considered a small possibility.

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