‘Hybrid is the big buzz word’: SXSW 2022 to fuse in-person, virtual events

Austin
Hugh Forrest, chief programming officer for SXSW, speaks with the Austin Chamber of Commerce May 25 ahead of the 2022 South by Southwest Conference & Festivals.

Hugh Forrest, chief programming officer for SXSW, speaks with the Austin Chamber of Commerce May 25 ahead of the 2022 South by Southwest Conference & Festivals. (Screenshot courtesy Austin Chamber of Commerce)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than two months after pulling off an all-virtual South by Southwest Conference & Festivals in March, SXSW organizers are gearing up for a 2022 series that features both in-person and virtual events.

“Hybrid is the big buzz word for the future,” said Hugh Forrest, SXSW chief programming officer.

Forrest unveiled the hybrid plans during a livestreamed discussion with the Austin Chamber of Commerce Tuesday. The 2022 festival will run from March 11-20, with the education conference planned for March 7-10.

One of the largest takeaways from the 100% virtual 2021 festival was the mobility of people across the country and around the world to more readily access the events series. During previous in-person festivals, SXSW typically attracts a 25% international audience; during the 2021 lineup, 33% of its attendees were based outside of the U.S.

Forrest said it also led to more convergence, with people leaving their respective industry silos and engaged with authors, musicians, panelists and film screenings they might not typically attend. These advantages of virtual programming will likely not go away any time soon, with Forrest adding in-person panels in 2022 will be supplemented by virtual elements.

“I think we have a lot of confidence having pulled off the virtual event, the hybrid event is something we can conquer as well,” he said.

In a pandemic where many people were devoid of in-person interactions, Forrest said the 2021 festival reminded attendees, panelists and SXSW staff alike the power found in communities gathering. While connection in the digital space is impactful in its own right, Forrest said the most profound connections are those done face-to-face.

“People want to hear from visionaries who talk to them about a better tomorrow,” he said.

With a downsized program lineup in 2021, Forrest said staff also learned about the benefits of a “less is more” philosophy, noting the smaller scale of events didn’t detract from attendees’ experiences. Moving ahead with the 2022 festival planning process, he added staff will keep that in mind as they craft next year’s lineup.

Members of the public can contribute to the 2022 schedule through SXSW’s panel picker process, opening to the public in late June through mid-July. For three weeks, people can submit which panelists, musicians, films and other creative content they’d like to see next March.

SXSW typically receives between 4,000 and 5,000 suggestions from the public that staff then reference when compiling the final schedule.

“We are in an amazing time right now in Austin,” Forrest said. “People are moving here because it’s the best city in the world. We’ve all helped build that.”

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