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Trend-Setting Event Tries to Get Back to Normal

This week, South by Southwest is hoping to approach its 2019 in-person attendance of 280,000 while showing off an unprecedented virtual presence too.

The nation’s most influential musical and cultural festival, South by Southwest, kicked off in Austin, Texas, on Friday, March 11 as a hybrid event, marking the first time in three years that it’s had an in-person component. Marketers from brands ranging from Amazon Prime to Porsche to Blockchain Creative Labs are hosting on-site activations and experiential activities to go along with more than 1,400 musical performances across 10 days.

This article in Digiday presents the perspective of the show’s organizers as well as their strategies for delivering a virtual experience that will energize the many reporters who have chosen to cover the festival from afar. And besides watching live and recorded broadcasts of panel sessions, all online attendees can engage in virtual-reality experiences that let them see and move through many of Austin’s venues and attractions.

However, the strong interest the event is seeing in its virtual component from reporters and others is evidence that many people aren’t yet ready to go back to normal and attend in person. The organizers have maintained health safeguards to reassure those who want to come; this article from Axios details the various Covid precautions still attached to the festival, including requiring proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test within 72 hours of attending as well as mandatory mask-wearing everywhere at the event.

But even when Covid finally moves into the rearview mirror, South by Southwest will continue to have a robust virtual component featuring many live sessions and brand activations. Rebecca Nunez, CEO of MRN Agency, says this in the Digiday article: “The pandemic allowed us to break geographical barriers. We’re not limited to SXSW being just in Austin. It can be experienced everywhere…Any physical event that has cultural currency will have to have a hybrid experience attached.”

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