The 7:00 p.m. local news show has defined “local TV” in Austria for more than three decades. While our news portal, VOL.AT - Vorarlberg Online, reaches 70% of local Internet users and our mobile journalists have been producing local news videos for smartphones for more than 15 years, we have never had a breakthrough with studio productions or daily video formats. Until now.
In September 2020, we provided live TV-style coverage of city council and mayoral elections — just as we had done for every election for the past 10 years. When the livestream ended after 5+ hours, one team member said to me: “So long, we’ll see it again in five years.” It felt wrong. That very evening we decided not to dismantle the improvised studio as planned.
We began moving every event to the studio. Livestreams instead of business conferences, flower shows, charity galas. We had paid streams and mostly free streams, all broadcasted over our free portal VOL.AT and the paid newspaper brand VN.AT (Vorarlberger Nachrichten). Success in viewership came immediately, as people were sitting home in lockdown and were open to new formats.
Our clients and event partners were excited, and we were able to keep the same revenue that would have otherwise been generated through events. Imagine: Instead of an event, it’s now a TV show with a Web site and a print journal.
Let me point out that the International News Media Association (INMA) has been a fascinating inspiration and benchmark for us, not complaining about canceled physical events but going fully digital and offering more content, more convenient than ever.
A weekend breakthrough
One Saturday, VOL.AT live-streamed the press conference of the chancellor announcing the second lockdown in Austria. We embedded it in a four-hour TV news show with local politicians and experts discussing the press conference on the air. The pandemic has changed many things; when it’s acceptable for CNN to invite guests via Zoom video conferencing, why shouldn’t we try it, too?
That day, VOL.AT had 150,000+ viewers — in a region with 400,000 inhabitants. “Vorarlberg LIVE” was born the next day.
“Vorarlberg LIVE” debuted at 5:00 p.m. November 17 on VOL.AT, VN.AT, Facebook, and the local TV station Ländle TV. The show attracts 60,000 viewers on average every weekday, which is on eye level with the local TV news mentioned above.
New format drives numbers
Each show of “Vorarlberg LIVE” consists of two or three 15- to 20-minute interviews with either physical or virtual studio guests by Zoom: a mix of local and national interview partners from politics, health, business, and culture. The set design with LED walls allows hosts to talk to both physical and virtual guests on an equal level.
Politicians that used to be newsroom guests pre-pandemic now visit our studio virtually. “Vorarlberg LIVE” guests have included Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and ministers, but also local mayors that had to fight a winter storm with their plowing teams.
The introduction of “Vorarlberg LIVE” has been beneficial for VOL.AT and VN’s brands. Snippets of our interviews aired in the most-viewed national TV news programmes and it provides us with video inventory, which is in high demand from our ad clients.
Some noteworthy results include:
- We are now producing shows for customers: “Local Banking LIVE” with Raiffeisen Bank, “Smart City Show” with the city of Dornbirn, “Com:bau,” a building and construction trade show, and more. Our improvised studio has become the brightest stage of Vorarlberg.
- Feedback shows that viewers get more information out of the 15-minute interviews than from ordinary three-minute TV interviews.
- “Vorarlberg LIVE” has created a habit of online users to end their day at 5:00 p.m. with the show.
- The demographic figures show that “Vorarlberg LIVE” reaches a younger audience than linear TV. German studies show public broadcasts have an average viewership age of 63, but the average Vorarlberg LIVE viewer is 48. The average age in Vorarlberg is 44.
The economics of broadcasting
We were careful in adding costs: the show is hosted by the editor-in-chief of VOL.AT, the portal’s chief reporter, and myself. Tech staff is formed by our event team and one executive producer from our local TV station. Everyone contributes, such as reporters using their connections to invite high-level guests, but in the studio, it’s a three-person team.
We learned early that the essentials were professional lighting, professional audio, and quality cameras. Our tech stack features not only Web production tools, but home studio equipment. This includes a TriCaster production system, and we stream over YouTube’s Player for Publishers (Google News Initiative) with help from Elgato Streamdeck XL to simplify controlling the LED wall and Zoom settings.
The quick success has shown the potential. We are now building a permanent studio with a larger LED wall backdrop (we love LED walls!) that is in the heart of VOL.AT’s newsroom. And we are building a second studio for hybrid events in post-pandemic times: book readings, lectures, and gatherings that can be attended by an audience of 100 — but are also televised with the help of automatic cameras.
We are convinced “Vorarlberg LIVE” is only the beginning. With newly launched shows like the weekly sports magazine, “Mixed Zone,” and the weekend late-night show “VOL.AT Klubhouse,” we are exploring a new kind of local Web TV.