As Media Companies Scale Back Their SXSW Presence, Viceland Built a Roller Skating Rink

Vice turned a downtown Austin parking lot into a pop-up roller skating park

For its third SXSW presence, the Vice-owned channel turned a downtown Austin parking lot into a pop-up roller skating park. Dianna McDougall
Headshot of Sammy Nickalls

It’s hard to top the baby goats that dominated Instagram feeds last year, but Viceland is trying its hardest with its biggest SXSW activation yet.

For its third SXSW presence, the Vice-owned channel turned a downtown Austin parking lot into a pop-up roller skating park, offering attendees happy hour drinks, cotton candy, swag (obviously) and its trademark Viceland party bus.

“It happened that SXSW is doing this whole kind of ’80s nostalgic hip-hop [theme] … so it kind of meshed perfectly,” Megan Kirsch, Viceland’s svp of marketing and creative, said. “We want to always just have a really immersive one-on-one experience with the consumer, so we thought, why don’t we do something with roller skating?”

But while ’80s nostalgia has been a hot trend as of late, one element of Viceland’s activation stood out far more: It’s one of the few media companies ramping up its presence at the festival this year. For example, while Mashable used to host an annual SXSW Mash Bash at its Mashhouse, it shrank its presence, instead holding Mash Bash at Austin venue Irene’s. BuzzFeed also shed its house, opting for only parties and panels.

Viceland is bucking the trend and going big mainly, Kirsch explained, because the festival is “the perfect place for us” and “fits with our brand.” Last year’s petting zoo saw approximately 20,000 people coming through, she said, and with “tons of social impressions” and “so much earned media.”

“For us, it wasn’t even that much of an investment to get so much return,” Kirsch said of 2018’s activation. “For this year, we [asked]: How can we go bigger and better, knowing that it really aligns with consumers and with our brand?”

Viceland pegged its SXSW activation around its premiere for Vice Studios film The Beach Bum, starring Matthew McConaughey; it hosted a private after-party Saturday night in the same space. It’s also promoting its new show, Vice Live—the hosts of which are filming content at the roller skating pop-up, hence the Viceland SXSW tagline, “Fuck It, We’ll Do It Live.”

“Really, [SXSW] allowed us to have this one Vice moment,” Kirsch said.

The roller skating theme came out of a brainstorm for a “fun way to up our ante, get a bigger space [and] engage with the consumer in a creative way,” she said.

“We like to have a good time. Vice is a bit of a party brand,” she said. “People really feel that with us, that they can have an authentic experience and a fun time and bond with people.”

Even if other media companies continue to shrink their SXSW presence, Vice is betting big on experiential.

“Vice has always been known for having incredible events,” Kirsch said. “And I think now, we have a little bit more focus and muscle behind it, knowing that doing experiential is what people want. … I would expect to see more, whether it’s more trade focus and upping our game when it comes to the NewFronts, or just maybe partnering with other music festivals. But I do think you might see more of that kind of on-the-ground presence for Vice.”

@sammynickalls Sammy Nickalls is a freelance writer and the former departments editor at Adweek.