SXSW has been canceled, for the first time in its 34-year history.
Austin city leaders announced Friday the decision to halt the mammoth festival and conference, which had been marred by tons of recent cancellations from big-name sponsors, speakers and panelists due to concern surrounding COVID-19, better known as coronavirus.
Mayor Steve Adler said in a press conference this afternoon he is declaring a local emergency, which calls for the cancellation of SXSW and would affect any other such gatherings.
Just in the past week, Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Warner Media, HBO, CNN, Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Audible (which was one of the fest's super sponsors), Intel, TikTok and others had all scrapped plans to bring employees and panels to the large gathering, which typically attracts as many as 400,000 people from 60 different countries.
Earlier Friday, Warner Music Group confirmed it was not sending its employees to the music-tech fest, not out of panic but as a "precautionary measure." While Universal Music Group (the largest music company in the world) and Sony hadn't made official announcements, the former was reportedly planning to pull out of the fest completely after previously advising employees not to attend if it wasn't necessary.
The news comes as a number of big events are grappling with how to respond to the growing number of cases of COVID-19 in the United States. While still relatively small in numbers, many experts have agreed that unnecessary large gatherings only further increase the chances of spreading the virus, of which much is still unknown.
SXSW had resisted calls for its cancellation, despite an online petition pleading for organizers to call it off this year. More than 55,000 people had signed the petition, as of this writing.
The massive festival and conference is one of the biggest annual events in Austin and within the film, music and tech industries overall. Its economic impact on the city has been pegged between $350 million and $400 million.
Updated with statement from SXSW:
"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. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.
As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated 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. We are committed to do our part to help protect our staff, attendees, and fellow Austinites."
Organizers say they are "exploring options to reschedule the event" and they will be in touch with registrants, clients and participants" with further information.