Report: Penske Media to buy half of South by Southwest

Report: Penske Media to buy half of South by Southwest
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Penske Media, the publisher of Rolling Stone, Billboard and Variety, is buying half of the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

A source familiar with the deal confirmed that Penske now owns half of SXSW LLC, the company that owns and manages the festival. SXSW will continue managing the business and is looking to Penske's investment to help it grow SXSW's digital audience.

The Austin-based conference, scheduled for mid-March, was canceled in 2020 after that city’s mayor declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a “local disaster.”

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Though the conference then went virtual, the economic effect of cancellation was significant, SXSW’s chief executive and co-founder, Roland Swenson, told the Journal in a statement about the deal.

“It’s been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included,” Swenson said. “When [Penske founder] Jay Penske came to us with interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us.”

Swenson told The Hill that SXSW’s core business will continue to focus on the March festival in Austin but added that "this strategic investment also brings the exploration of new capabilities in providing quality programming to our diverse community of highly engaged creative professionals.”

Penske did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. 

The festival’s insurance policy didn’t cover pandemics, the Journal reported, and the organizers estimated the cancellation cost them millions of dollars. 

The conference was held virtually again this year, but organizers have said they are optimistic they “will be able to hold an in-person event in 2022.”

Updated at 11:45 a.m.