South by Southwest says its 2021 festival will be hosted online, and the organizers hope it'll bring with it some of the best aspects of the annual conference that normally takes place in Austin, Texas. SXSW Online, as it's being called, will run from March 16th to March 20th. Attendees will be able to check out film and music screenings as well as participate in educational sessions and networking opportunities.
Heard of Zoom fatigue? — While admirable to keep the show going and support indie artists, the actual scheduled events aren't really the point of SXSW. People across the media, entertainment, and tech spectrum use the annual gathering in Austin each year as an excuse to socialize with like-minded people and develop new relationships. And PR people from companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter come to try and get the ears of journalists who've had one too many drinks.
Doing back-to-back networking events over Zoom, on the other hand, strips away the best parts and sounds pretty exhausting. SXSW's organizers say they're holding out hope they can host a physical event in Austin sometime in 2021 (seems optimistic if you ask us). This year they were resistant to canceling their event but eventually caved after Austin officials called coronavirus "a local disaster" and the aforementioned big tech companies backed out of attending.
Digital band-aids — In its stead, SXSW partnered this year with Amazon to host a 10-day online film festival presenting some of the 2020 lineup to anyone with an account on the site. Filmmakers were offered an undisclosed screening fee in exchange for participating, though some were unhappy with the offer because they worried the deal would interfere with their ability to sell the films to a distributor once the 10-day screening was over.
As good as tech is at keeping us connected during these times, it's still not quite able to replicate the unique attributes of physical gatherings.