Arts, Culture & Entertainment

Q&A with Jason DeMarco about the 2021 Adult Swim Festival

The Warner Media Exec talks about this year’s free online rendition of the yearly Adult Swim Festival.

A title graphic of the 2021Adult Swim Festival.

The Adult Swim Festival is returning this year in the form of a free two-day virtual event that will feature musical performances from Lil Baby, 21 Savage, Flying Lotus, Karol G and many more.

The online festival will also host livestreams and panels for some of Adult Swim’s beloved shows such as “Rick and Morty,” “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and “Squidbillies.” The event will last from Friday, Nov. 12 through Saturday, Nov. 13.

Jason DeMarco, Senior Vice President of Anime and Action for Warner Media, talked with Annenberg Media about the festival’s background, the decision to make it a free event and fan engagement.

Still photo of Jason DeMarco

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Annenberg Media: Can you tell me about the background of the Adult Swim Festival?

Jason DeMarco: Over the years we have done a lot in the music space from releasing multiple albums, to the weekly Adult Swim singles program, to live events at our upfront party. We certainly had enough data to know that people might show up for a music-focused event. We decided to try our hands at an Adult Swim festival in LA and the first year went really well. So we were really encouraged by sort of everything fans told us and how many people showed up.

AM: What went into the decision to have the festival online again this year?

JD: Like everyone else in 2020, we decided that it was probably better not to have people gathering in large quantities when there was a raging pandemic so we decided to move everything online. We were very surprised at the response we got, which was very positive. It did really well for us in terms of views and responses from fans. And so going into this year, we knew that we weren’t quite sure where things would be with COVID, but we knew that at a certain point we had to make a call. Do we do this live, or do we do this virtual? And we just felt all as a group that the safer choice for people was to do it virtually.

AM: How has the approach to the festival changed now that it’s online rather than in-person?

JD: Every artist will approach it differently. Some will approach it like an exciting challenge and really want to do something different. Some will wanna strip it way down and make it just about them and people. I do think it allows us more freedom in terms of the presentation. Every set feels totally different because they’re not all sharing the stage, they’re not all back to back with each other. You’re really sort of engaging with them more one on one. When you’re in that live setting, you have that crowd energy to vibe off of and you don’t have that here. But what you do have is a pure throughline to whatever the artist is trying to give you, which I think is a cool difference.

AM: What has the fan response and engagement leading up to the festival been like?

JD: We’ve seen more people excited that it’s virtual again. They’re just excited that they’ll be able to experience a festival and don’t have to get a plane ticket and fly and spend all the money. I think it opens it up to a lot more people than would frankly not be able to see it otherwise so that’s the thing we’ve seen the most excitement about. Accessibility matters a lot, and I think that it’s a good thing that it’s open to more people. The lineup, of course, got a lot of positive response. And then in addition to the lineup, the announcements of certain panels and certain premieres and certain extra content I think are all things that Adult Swim fans are equally excited about. It’s a good sort of cross-section of people that are into it for the bands, people that are into it for Adult Swim, and people that just want to check it out because it’s a free thing.

AM: How do you monetize an event like this and why did you all decide to make it free?

JD: It’s certainly cheaper to put on a virtual festival for us because we’re not paying for all the overhead that comes with a live event in terms of personnel and in terms of equipment. There’s a difference between sponsoring a live event where there’s a limited number of people and sponsoring an online event. In a live concert setting, you’re gonna have a few thousand people, but in an online setting, you could have millions of people. There’s no upper limit to your audience. And I think that allowed us to get more sponsorship, which helps cover the cost of this festival. Also, I just feel like free is a good model. People love free, they’re happy with free and if you can make free happen, why would you not do it? I guess I’m just an old-school huckster in that way. I just like being able to tell people it’s free. What do you have to lose? Tune in, check it out. It’s free. Your time is the only thing you might lose. I think for me, that’s the best way to approach anything like this. If you can make it free, make it free.

A photo of the full lineup form the 2021 Adult Swim Festival.

The event will be available to stream for free on YouTube and exclusive content will be available on HBO Max from Nov.12-13.