New SXSW-Commissioned Report Suggests Major Changes for the Festival

posted by Dan Murphy on October 02, 2014

House of Vans at SXSW 2014 by Angela Del Sol

Austin, Texas -- This week, Populous, a firm specializing in major event-planning, released a South By Southwest-commissioned report that suggests drastic changes to the current format of the festival, including a possible location change from its home in Austin.

The gist of the report aimed at reigning in control of the event to the official SXSW brand. According to Texas Monthly, the firm suggested to accompany access to the main festival stretch - Downtown Austin's 6th Street - with a "soft search" (a more polite term for frisking) in addition to banning pop-up street performances and restricting events in neighboring parking lots. 

The most troubling suggestion of the report is the enactment of a city-sanctioned "Clean Zone," or an area reserved only for official SXSW events with unofficial parties and showcases restricted by city authorities. That means SXSW staples that fall into the latter category like Hype Hotel and FADER Fort would be forced to relocate outside of the main festival hub.

While this seems rather drastic, these unofficial events have become something of a thorn in SXSW's side considering the sponsorship conundrum they present. Big sponsors can circumvent an official deal with the festival by setting up their showcases in the backyard of a bar on 6th Street with no real difference to the festivalgoer, while those who go through the official channels end up paying more. This surely effects festival sponsorship negotiations for bigger companies. 

That being said, the clean zone would come with further festival fees that could deter smaller, independent labels and companies who may not be able to afford such extra costs from participating. Frankly, the whole thing just puts a damper on the already corporate-trending festival. 

A particularly disconcerting section of the report stated, "If SXSW cannot sustain success and growth in the future, like any business they will eventually need to make decisions about whether or not they can continue to exist in their current format and location." Since the festival has become so synonymous with the city of Austin, this sort of rhetoric seems like more of a negotiation tactic than anything else. However, we can expect SXSW to put further pressure on the city government to protect its own interests.

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