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TV Activations Take Over SXSW, Immersing Fans in New and Old Favorites

Prime Video, Peacock, and Showtime were among the networks enticing SXSW attendees with food, photos, and more at various activations.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 10: General view of the 1923 Speakeasy bar at The Lodge: A Paramount+ Experience during SXSW at The Clive Bar on March 10, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Paramount+)

A “1923” Speakeasy bar at The Lodge: A Paramount+ Experience during SXSW.

Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Paramount+

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.

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