Music conferences come and go over the years, but one that not only keeps going but continues to with gravitas is South By Southwest. SXSW has always been thought of as not only the king of the hill for these types of gatherings, but remains respected for not being strictly a money-grab (although there’s plenty of that involved). Many in the industry wondered if that approach would continue though, as reports that P-MRC, the owner of Rolling Stone, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Billboard and Deadline (and an investor in Music Business Worldwide) has announced that it has made a strategic investment in SXSW.
According to the Wall Street Journal, P-MRC has acquired a 50% stake in SXSW LLC, and it makes many within the industry wonder if that will cause the festival’s direction to change. That said, the pandemic-caused cancellation of last year’s event put SXSW into an almost unwinnable position since the company had no insurance coverage. It was forced to lay off about a third of its full-time staff as a result.
P-MRC, owned by Penske Media, has stated that there would be no changes in management as a result of the acquisition, and as usually the case, that may be true in the beginning. What usually happens is that over time the company decides to utilize the resources from the other parts of the company in the new venture and that’s when the culture changes. There’s no guarantee that will happen though, or that the event will change any more than the business has already caused it to change as a result of the pandemic. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak, and it’s not going back.
In recent years vendors, artists and contributors have complained about SXSW become highly commercialized and extremely pricey to attend. There’s little hope that the event will return to its earlier roots at this point regardless of the P-MRC investment. The best we can hope for is that it doesn’t grow beyond what Austin can currently provide (it’s at the breaking point now).