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SXSW and Penske Media Make a Deal for Investment and Long-Term Partnership

The investment, which makes Penske-MRC a SXSW shareholder, was described by cofounder Roland Swenson as "a lifeline."

The Paramount Theatre in Austin south by southwest

The Paramount Theatre in Austin after the last live SXSW in 2019

Shelley Hiam

IndieWire parent company Penske Media’s P-MRC Holdings has invested in SXSW, the robust set of conferences and festivals that have rocked Austin for 34 years. The partnership aligns P-MRC as a long-term partner and SXSW shareholder, with the company utilizing SXSW as an opportunity for all of its media brands.

The essence of the events, and its management, are expected to remain intact while expanding SXSW’s potential for new events and business models. SXSW and P-MRC are now developing the March 2022 event in Austin. P-MRC is a joint venture between Penske Media Corporation and MRC, whose holdings include Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone, Variety, and Vibe.

P-MRC will reportedly take a 50% stake in the business, which last hosted its physical edition in 2019. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the news.

“It has been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included,” said SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson in a statement. “When Jay Penske approached us with an interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. Both of our companies share a passion for producing high-quality content that helps shape modern culture, so this feels like a natural alliance. Now we are focused on the March 2022 event, and we’re honored to embark on a new chapter of SXSW with both his experience and the capabilities of P-MRC at our side.”

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 10: Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein attend the afterparty for "BOOKSMART" World Premiere at SXSW Film Festival on March 10, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for United Artists Releasing) *** Local Caption *** Kaitlyn Dever; Beanie Feldstein

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein attend the SXSW afterparty for “Booksmart”

Getty Images for United Artists Releasing

The deal was finalized by Penske Media chairman and CEO Jay Penske and Swenson, who co-founded SXSW in 1987 with Nick Barbaro, Louis Black, and Louis Jay Meyers.

“We are grateful and proud to become enduring partners with SXSW, and collaborate with its exceptional team,” said Penske. “Since 1987, SXSW has been the world’s premier festival centered at the convergence of tech, media, film, and music. Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW’s incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights.”

The city of Austin canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic, while the 2021 edition was virtual. For IndieWire, it’s a chance to collaborate and support an entity that has motivated our work for a quarter century and continues to play a critical role in supporting an ever-changing landscape of creativity.

Originally the brainchild of Austin Chronicle editors who wanted to capture the spirit of the local music scene, the event expanded to include its film festival in 1994. Its sensibilities helped inform the early days of IndieWire, which launched in 1996.

SXSW ballooned into a national event that welcomed thousands of people to downtown Austin each year, with keynote speakers ranging from Johnny Cash to astronaut Richard Garriot. SXSW blossomed into a cultural breeding ground for music, technology, and microbudget American cinema, and IndieWire was on the frontlines watching that community take shape.

Barry Jenkins SXSW Keynote

SXSW 2018 keynote speaker Barry Jenkins

During those years, we delighted in SXSW Film’s predilection for edgy storytelling at every level, including adventurous studio releases like “Knocked Up” and “Baby Driver.” However, the essence of SXSW Film was at the other end of the spectrum. It was there that we attended the world premiere of Barry Jenkins’ first film, “Medicine for Melancholy,” embraced breakout talent Greta Gerwig as the star of “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” and assessed the so-called “mumblecore” phenomenon of filmmakers — a term first used by “Mutual Appreciation” director Andrew Bujalski in an interview with IndieWire.

Lena Dunham’s dorm-set “Creative Nonfiction” premiered at the festival in 2009 and she returned the next year with “Tiny Furniture,” made with many of the actors and craftspeople she met at SXSW. It won the SXSW Grand Jury Prize and came to the attention of festival regular Judd Apatow, who approached Dunham about creating “Girls” for HBO. The groundbreaking series premiered at the festival the following year, marking a turning point for showcasing television at festival.

As the world endured a radical shift from analog to digital media, SXSW’s capacity to capture the confluence of art and technology provided a unique window into the evolution of our media landscape. By encouraging a constructive dialogue between entrepreneurial and artistic minds, SXSW has been critical to the formation of America’s creative class.

As journalists keen on tracking the convergence of film, TV, and other media throughout unpredictable times, SXSW has served as another chance for IndieWire to not only analyze the state of the industry but also to anticipate its next chapters. We look forward to working with our new partners to keep that mission alive.

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