The Austin Chronicle

How to “Attend” SXSW Online

The annual citywide insanity becomes Couch by Couchwest

By Kimberley Jones, March 12, 2021, Features

Here and around the globe, the cancellation of the 2020 South by Southwest Festival and Conference was a startlement, and one of the first chilling signs that COVID-19 was going to seriously disrupt our lives and livelihoods. A year later, we've still not returned to "normal" – and maybe we never will. But we have, collectively, gotten better at this thing – at being safer, and at being more innovative.

Same goes for the world's largest commingling of cutting-edge technology and culture. SXSW 2021 is a 100% virtual affair, to be experienced like just about everything else these days: from the safety of your own home, the comfort of your own couch. That doesn't mean this year's Fest is unambitious. SXSW IRL is almost too big to comprehend. SXSW Online is just as daunting to wrap your arms around but in different ways.

The programming – everything from film premieres, music showcases, and stand-up sets to keynote speeches, networking opportunities, and panels tackling the most pressing issues of the day (racial justice, artificial intelligence, the climate crisis, take your pick) – streams across five channels, plus on-demand options, in a mix of live and pretaped content. There are, as ever, too many interesting things happening all at once to ever cram it all in. We hope our preview package can help demystify the process and point you in the direction of some of this year's standout offerings.

How It Works

SXSW Online runs March 16-20 and takes place entirely virtually. One pass ($325 each) enables you to "attend" all programming, including music, film, comedy, conference, and networking offerings.

Once you've registered to attend, you can access SXSW Online through your web browser (best viewed in Chrome or Firefox); the SXSW Online 2021 mobile app on Android and iOS; or through your Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, Samsung Smart TV, or Android TV by searching for the SXSW Online app.

Featured sessions will be broadcast across five channels from 10am to 10pm each day. The day's content is then rebroadcast over the following 12 hours. Additional programming – for instance, PanelPicker sessions – are available anytime on demand. Channel 5 is reserved for partner programming.

The Film Festival drops new content every two hours, 10am-8pm, March 16-18. Once a film launches, it remains available on demand until it reaches its audience capacity or the event ends on March 20. Some films will have limited capacity and require an RSVP.

Music Festival Showcases take place daily 2:30-10pm, plus all day Saturday, March 20. For attendees in the Eastern Hemisphere, the schedule repeats over the next 12-hour cycle.

SXSW Online XR programming includes live panels, special events, and Virtual Cinema. VRChat worlds can be experienced on PC, PCVR, and Oculus Quest headsets.

SXSW Online also offers a variety of ways to connect with other attendees – via mentoring sessions and Zoom meetups, on social media, and within the web portal. Read all about that, and every other question you might want answered, at

Copyright © 2023 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.