Not to be dramatic, but Prime Video probably saved my life at South by Southwest 2023.
The streamer was one of many to present multiple immersive activations at the festival’s Film & TV conference, including a convenience store tied to Donald Glover’s “Swarm.” As I stood baking in the sun outside the “Swarm” minimart, I realized that it was 85 degrees Fahrenheit and I hadn’t hydrated in approximately five hours. When I entered the store and saw a cooler full of beverages, I could swear they were surrounded by a halo, a chorus of angels singing my triumph as I grabbed and guzzled a Gatorade.
It wouldn’t be the last time a TV activation curbed my wayward conference habits that weekend. More than once I picked up a meal at Prime, Texas, the block-long cityscape dedicated to Amazon’s major shows (featuring the best tater tots I’ve had in maybe my entire life). The chips I purchased at Swarm with a fake $5 bill came in handy during breaks between panels or as a late-night snack. It was hard to pass up a signature cocktail (hydration value arguable) at Roku City or The Lodge: A Paramount+ Experience, and Peacock’s “Mrs. Davis” offered vouchers for a free coffee, taco, and doughnut (it makes sense when you watch the show).
“South by Southwest is such an amazing festival. People are really open to new ideas and new experiences and that’s partly why they come here,” Peacock’s SVP of Brand Marketing Jo Fox told IndieWire. The company hired actors to roam downtown Austin as nuns, leading up to a Q&A with “Mrs. Davis” creators Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez on March 13, and the two-episode premiere March 14.
With more TV than ever, activations like those at SXSW are one major way for networks and streamers to set their projects apart, to entice viewers with memorable visuals and experiences that are inextricably linked to big shows. Though “Swarm” and “Mrs. Davis” premiered at SXSW, both series were still under embargo during the conference, which meant that activation visitors had minimal plot details about either show. Many at the “Daisy Jones & the Six” concert were in festive 1970s outfits, and I stood next to someone in line who hadn’t seen the show or read the book but drove an hour to catch the concert. People lined up not only to enter the activations at all, but to get signature cocktails, custom merchandise, temporary tattoos, and more. These spaces exude an air of class and exclusivity, not in the sense of ostracizing anyone, but by opening the doors of TV shows and the industry to enthusiastic fans — just like SXSW itself.
“When you’re launching new shows, you want to get attention to that because there’s so much choice to consumers,” Fox said. “We’re now doing more that we can to make sure that in this atmosphere where there’s lots of shows launching, we’re doing as much as we can to generate buzz and excitement for our new original content.”
Read on for highlights of the SXSW TV activations.
The Lodge: A Paramount+ Experience
Paramount’s SXSW residence included three bars, a rooftop, temporary tattoos, and more.
Inside The Lodge
The Lodge interiors used mountain imagery (inspired by the Paramount logo) and rustic cabin vibes.
“Rabbit Hole” at The Lodge
The new thriller let visitors take a photo as “Rabbit Hole” protagonist John Weir (Kiefer Sutherland).
“Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” at The Lodge
The prequel series gave free popcorn to Lodge visitors, as well as a chance to sit in a classic 1950s car and don the iconic Pink Ladies jackets.
This exterminator van from the new Peacock series could be spotted throughout the festival — but probably isn’t much help when it comes to actual pest control.
The Nuns of “Mrs. Davis”
To build buzz for Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez’s drama, Peacock unleashed nuns throughout Austin — all of whom were in character and “looking for Mrs. Davis.”
The Nuns Do Brunch
The “Mrs. Davis” nuns popped all over Austin, including at shops and in restaurants.
Prime Video took over an entire block, transforming it into a cityscape (and party destination) celebrating multiple shows and offering food, drinks, set recreations, and more.
“Daisy Jones & the Six” Concert Experience
On Saturday March 11, Prime, Texas hosted an exclusive “Daisy Jones” concert with food, drinks, and custom merchandise.
Right next to Prime, Texas (and from the same family) was the “Swarm” minimart, a convenience store based on Donald Glover’s upcoming dark comedy series.
“Who’s Your Favorite Artist?”
The “Swarm” minimart doesn’t give away much about this twisted series, but was full of Dre’s (Dominique Fishback) favorite snacks. Visitors received a fake $5 bill to purchase food and drinks, as well as a lottery ticket that won them either a t-shirt or bucket hat.
Showtime’s buzzy drama about teen cannibals (and their traumatized adult selves) took over this Fair Market warehouse with a haunting winter atmosphere.
The “Yellowjackets” Sacrifice
Lottie’s (Courtney Eaton) altar from the Season 1 finale was at the back of Camp Yellowjackets, shrouded in fog and snow and revealing the bear heart she sacrificed to “the darkness” in the woods.
Target Practice at Camp Yellowjackets
Would you survive in the wilderness? Camp Yellowjackets visitors could test their accuracy by throwing a rubber axe at these targets.
This activation in partnership with Best Buy celebrated all things TV. Spanning multiple floors, there were rooms recreating salons, hotel lobbies, and this massive living room set, as well as themed sections tied to Roku Originals.
Roku City Rooftop
On the top floor of Roku’s activation was a rooftop bar — decked out in purple like the rest of Roku City — with signature cocktails, snacks, music, and more as visitors looked out at downtown Austin.
The HBO Max Coffeehouse
The aptly named pop up offered visitors a chance to grab a cup, sit back, and potentially enjoy panel discussions or live music performances.
Filmmaker Roundtable at HBO Coffeehouse
On March 11, Lena Waithe led the documentary discussion at HBO’s SXSW pop up. On March 12, Amber Lucid performed an acoustic set.
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