Following its first cancellation in 34 years in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, South by Southwest today launched the online portion of its 2021 programming, with details on the physical event to come.
The annual conglomeration of festivals, which includes programming related to tech, branding, music, film, education and more, draws nearly 400,000 visitors and more than $350 million to Austin, Texas, each spring. For marketers, the event serves as an arguably unrivaled opportunity for brands to make a splash with activations and experiential launches.
“This has been such a year of change and we, like the entire world, are reshaping our perspective on how we connect,” said SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson in a statement. “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.”
Details regarding an in-person festival in 2021 are still up in the air, but SXSW said today it is working with the city of Austin and local public health officials to develop plans for the event.
Entries for both the SXSW and SXSW EDU digital conferences and applications for the film festival will open on Oct. 6. Using a platform called PanelPicker, festival organizers are soliciting panel proposals and input from attendees to assist in the curation of the event. Community votes will account for 30% of the final decision-making process, while SXSW staff will make up another 30% and an advisory board of industry experts will control the remaining 40%.
After the festival was canceled for 2020, SXSW laid off a third of its staff. But the cancellation was also a massive blow for event venues, bars and restaurants in Austin, some of which rely on the influx of festival-goers for more than half of their yearly revenue.
So far, three venues in the historic Red River Cultural District—which is completely taken over by SXSW every March—have closed permanently as a result of Covid-19.