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Sony, Universal, Warner Music Advise Employees Not to Attend SXSW Due to Coronavirus (EXCLUSIVE)

SXSW
Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

All three major music groups — Sony, Universal and Warner Music — have advised their employees not to attend the upcoming South By Southwest music festival and conference in Austin, Texas, due to the growing concern over the coronavirus, sources close to the situation confirm to Variety.

All three companies have similar directives not to attend, which are not mandatory and allow for exceptions to be made but, as one company source put it, “no one has asked for one yet.”

A rep for SXSW did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.

Excerpts from one company’s internal memo obtained by Variety read: “Given the event draws in many people from around the world, we’ve decided to cancel [our company’s] attendance at SXSW this year. … Please note, this is a precautionary measure. Many of our partners are reaching similar conclusions, which also means the benefits of attending would be much reduced,” it continues, before concluding, “SXSW is an important and productive event for our industry and we expect to be back there next year as usual.”

Some directives are part of larger company policies advising against domestic and international large conferences and conventions.

The status of label-sponsored showcases was unclear at the time of this article’s publication, although it is expected most will continue at the discretion of the city, the venue and the artists, albeit without company staff on site.

Artists are not affected by the directive, as they are not employees of the companies, although several major artists have cancelled appearances. Ozzy Osbourne (who has cancelled or postponed two recent tours due to ill health) called off a non-performing appearance on Thursday, while scheduled talks with Trent Reznor and the Beastie Boys were cancelled when the companies sponsoring the films they were connected to pulled out (WarnerMedia and Apple, respectively).

While multiple major tech companies have pulled out of the festival — also including Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, LinkedIn, Audible, IBM and Intel — music companies had been relatively slow to cancel until Thursday.

The film portion of SXSW is due to kick off on March 13, with the conference scheduled to run until the 22nd.

Last year’s SXSW drew 232,258 attendees spanning music, film, interactive, and gaming, according to the festival.

In the past few days many have asked why SXSW, which begins in a mere week, pull the plug sooner rather than on the eve of thousands of badgeholders getting on a flight?

There’s no wide consensus to the answers to these questions yet, but one element that’s clearly a factor is letting civic and government authorities ultimately make the call, which stands a promoter in much better stead in collecting on insurance policies to cover the massive losses associated with canceling one of the major annual events on their calendars.

Variety explores the issue — which defies easy explanation — in this article published Thursday.