SXSW was supposed to kick off tomorrow and run through March 22, before it was canceled just last week due to mounting concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. But, it seems the festival is still holding out hope that it can host some sort of virtual experience, according to an email from SXSW organizers that was obtained by Ad Age.
The email was sent to participants, including speakers, of this year's SXSW on Tuesday, March 10—three days before the music, film and tech event in Austin, Texas was scheduled to start. The email begins by expressing how "devastated" the organizers were that the City of Austin forced the festival to shut down, but said SXSW was "still in the process of exploring ideas for a virtual event in some form, but just haven't figured out the details of what that would look like at the moment."
A SXSW spokesperson did not return a request for comment.
The email in full:
Hello there, we wanted to take a moment to reach out and thank you for all your time and effort being an organizer of a Conference session.
We are devastated to have to announce the cancellation of this year’s SXSW Conference & Festivals as the City of Austin has cancelled the March dates for SXSW. That means all official SXSW events will not be happening.
As an organizer of a session, you were going to play a large part in making SXSW so special. Your willingness and time spent being point of contact for our content reminds us of how much our community values our event, and how you understand the importance of sharing ideas with one another.
We're still in the process of exploring ideas for a virtual event in some form, but just haven't figured out the details of what that would look like at the moment. We will reach out when we have more information.
Thanks again for dedicating so much time and care, and we hope to work with you again in the future.
SXSW | Conference Programming Team
The festival did note in last week's statement announcing the cancellation that it would explore options to reschedule the event as well as "provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible." Although, the odds of the latter happening seemed unlikely given the short notice.
One person who received the email and spoke on condition of anonymity questioned how many people would actually sign up for a virtual event, especially this late in the game, and speculated that this might just be a play on the part of SXSW to recover some money.
It is also unlikely that ticket holders will receive refunds for this year's festival. Although, certain reports have noted that SXSW is allowing registrants to "opt to defer their registration to 2021, 2022 or 2023."
SXSW's policy states: "SXSW does not issue refunds under any circumstances. Any and all payments made to SXSW are not refundable for any reason, including, without limitation, failure to use credentials due to illness, acts of God, travel-related problems, acts of terrorism, loss of employment and/or duplicate purchases. SXSW will not issue refunds for credentials that have been revoked."
One attendee, who owns a marketing firm and planned to be active at SXSW, criticized festival organizers for their response so far. The marketing exec spoke on condition of anonymity about trying to get refunds for purchases like badges, which can cost from $500 to more than $1,500, depending on the tier of access.
"I really feel SXSW should refund everyone for their passes," the exec says. "They have given very little communication and no refunds."
Ad Age's Garett Sloane contributed to this report.