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The band plays on

SXSW officials continue plans to hold massive event despite the coronavirus threat

The outdoor stage at SWSX David Brendan Hall

The band plays on
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Organizations have canceled or postponed at least 440 trade shows and exhibitions in response to the coronavirus. But in Austin, where the lucrative and enjoyable South by Southwest (SXSW) 10-day music/movie/tech festival is still scheduled for March 13–22, the band plays on.

Organizers of this year’s Game Developers Conference, scheduled for the week of March 15 in San Francisco, postponed it after Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Sony, and other companies said they weren’t coming. Facebook, Mashable, CapitalOne, TikTok, Intel, and SAP have all announced they’re canceling their SXSW participation. Nevertheless, in Austin, the band plays on.

Investor and podcaster Tim Ferriss, scheduled to give a SXSW keynote address, tweeted, “I love SXSW, but I don’t believe the novel coronavirus can be contained, and I view an int’l event of 100K+ people as a huge risk to attendees and the entire city, given limited ICU beds, etc. … SXSW brings huge economic benefit to Austin, but possibly making Austin a hotspot for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19, and the emergency actions + funding that would require, could make a huge event seem shortsighted.”

SXSW cancellation would certainly be a big financial hit, yet organizers who canceled late last month the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, did so despite expectations it would generate $546 million. Factora CEO Allegra Brantly had a useful twist on dollar concerns when she canceled a “Women & Wealth Lounge” scheduled for Austin on March 14, saying, “Health is wealth and we’re not willing to risk yours. … As disappointed as we are, we will never regret prioritizing women’s safety as a top concern.”

The Austin American-Statesman Tuesday night reported SXSW officials saying, “The 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority.” As of Wednesday morning, more than 42,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for the cancellation of the entire event. But, so far, the band plays on—with the music of Jaws in the background?

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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