South by Southwest festival canceled amid coronavirus fears

Facebook, Twitter and Netflix had already announced they were backing out.

March 6, 2020, 5:39 PM

The annual South By Southwest tech, film and music festival has been cancelled amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, organizers announced Friday.

"We are devastated to share this news with you '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," South By Southwest said in a statement on its website. "We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation."

Organizers added that 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."

Prior to the cancellation announcement, Facebook, Netflix and Twitter joined a growing list of companies that had backed out of the festival that was set to take place in Austin, Texas, from March 13-22.

Calling off the festival could be a major blow to the local economy. The gathering injects up to $350 million into Austin's economy, according to a 2018 analysis from Greyhill Advisors funded by South by Southwest.

As recently as Wednesday, officials said at a news conference the event was still scheduled as planned despite concerns over COVID-19, and that canceling the event wouldn't make the community safer.

"Right now, there is no evidence that closing South by Southwest or other activities is going to make this community safer. We are constantly monitoring that situation," Dr. Mark Escott, the interim medical director for Austin Public Health, told reporters Wednesday. "One of the concerns is that if we shut down or make the recommendation to shut down South by Southwest, people will still continue to come here … but without that organizational structure that South by Southwest provides."

Festival organizers said they increased the availability of handwashing and sanitizing stations as well as screening employees' and volunteers' temperatures to help allay anxieties over COVID-19, Escott added.

Also on Wednesday, health officials in Texas announced the state's first confirmed case of coronavirus in Fort Bend County, outside of Houston.

PHOTO: In this March 11, 2019, file photo, a view of Austin's city streets during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festival is shown.
In this March 11, 2019, file photo, a view of Austin's city streets during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festival is shown.
Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was scheduled to be one of the event's speakers, but his name soon disappeared from the website.

"Twitter is implementing a mandatory global business travel restriction for our employees, effective immediately. This unfortunately includes SXSW," a Twitter spokesperson told ABC News.

A Facebook spokesperson similarly said, "Due to concerns related to coronavirus, our company and employees will not be participating in SXSW this year."

Netflix and TikTok also both confirmed to ABC News Thursday they would not be participating. Apple did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment, though Reuters reported the company also would be backing out.

Organizers and the city of Austin faced widespread calls to call off the festival this year. A petition calling for it to be canceled had garnered 50,000 signatures as of Thursday.

As health officials warn against mass gatherings to prevent community spread, the coronavirus outbreak has already delivered a major blow to the conference and festival circuit. Major events including Facebook's F8 Developers Conference, Google I/O conference and even the Geneva International Motor Show all have been canceled.

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