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 during various activations.

Not to be dramatic, but Prime Video probably saved my life for South by Southwest 2023.

The streamer was one of many to show off several immersive activations at the festival’s Film & TV conference, including a convenience store tied to Donald Glover’s “Swarm.” As I basked in the sun outside the “Swarm” convenience store, I realized it was 85 degrees Fahrenheit and I hadn’t hydrated in about five hours. When I walked into the store and saw a cooler full of drinks, I swore it was surrounded by a halo, a choir of angels singing my triumph as I grabbed and gulped down a Gatorade.

It wouldn’t be the last time a TV activation would curb my conferences that weekend. I’ve had one more than once at Prime in Texas, a block-long cityscape dedicated to major Amazon shows (with perhaps the best tastings of my entire life). Chips bought at Swarm with fake $5 bills came in handy during breaks between panels or as a late-night snack. It was hard to miss a signature cocktail (the hydration value is debatable) at Roku City or The Lodge: A Paramount+ Experience and the Peacock “Mrs. Davis” offered vouchers for free coffee, tacos and donuts (it makes sense if you watch the show).

“South by Southwest is an amazing festival. People are very open to new ideas and new experiences, and that’s part of why they come here,” Peacock SVP of Brand Marketing Jo Fox told IndieWire. The company hired actors to roam downtown Austin as nuns, leading to a Q&A: “Mrs. Davis” creators Damon Lindelof and Tara Hernandez on March 13, and the two-episode premiere on March 14.

With more TVs than ever before, activations like SXSW are a key way for networks and streamers to differentiate their projects and entice viewers with memorable visuals and experiences that are inextricably linked to big shows. Although the “swarm” and “Mrs. Davis” premiered at SXSW, both series were still embargoed during the conference, which meant activation attendees had minimal plot details from either show. At the “Daisy Jones & the Six” concert, many people were dressed in 1970s holiday attire, and I was standing in line next to someone who had not seen the show or read the book, but had driven an hour to get to the concert. People lined up not just to get into the activations at all, but to get cocktails, unique merchandise, temporary tattoos and more. These spaces exude an air of class and exclusivity, not in the sense of ostracizing anyone, but in the sense of opening the doors of TV shows and the industry to avid fans—much like SXSW itself.

“When you launch new shows, you want to get attention because there’s so much choice for consumers,” Fox said. “Now we’re doing everything we can to create interest and excitement for our new original content in this climate where a lot of shows are launching.”

Read on for SXSW TV activation highlights.

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