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SXSW conference canceled amid heightened coronavirus concerns

Up until Friday, SXSW had continued to move forward with its plans, adding speakers as recently as this week.
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The mayor of Austin, Texas, on Friday declared a disaster due to the coronavirus outbreak, a move that resulted in the cancellation of the South by Southwest conference.

The annual event brings thousands of visitors to the city for conferences centered around discussions on technology, media, sports, education and video gaming. There is also a major film festival and a music festival.

“It’s a really important event to our city in a lot of ways, tied to who we are in this city,” Mayor Steve Adler said at a news conference. “I look forward to the next iteration of SXSW when it comes back for us.”

The conference, which had been scheduled for March 13-22, has grown in recent years to become one of the most well-known events in the U.S. In 2019, the two-week event drew more than 417,000 visitors from 106 countries. According to a report released by SXSW, the event brought $356 million to the city's economy.

Up until Friday, SXSW had continued to move forward with its plans, adding speakers as recently as this week. Other major events, including Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference and IBM’s Think conference, have been canceled across the country.

Numerous event partners and participants had already pulled out of the two-week conference and festival.

SXSW organizers said they would be exploring options to reschedule the event. They are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants.

"'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," the organizers of the event said in a written statement. "We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.”

On Sunday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was scheduled for a keynote talk but withdrew following his company’s decision to pull out of the conference and no longer host its SXSW house.

Following Twitter’s withdrawal, Facebook and Intel withdrew on Monday. Facebook had several employees participating as panelists and Intel had on-site activities planned.

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

The following day, Amazon Studios announced it was dropping out, followed a day later by Apple and Netflix. The three companies had a number of events planned for SXSW, including several film premieres.

On Thursday, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal said they would also be dropping out of the festival over concerns about coronavirus. The media companies had a slew of employees participating on panels and other on-site events planned.

NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC News.