Nine Months of PULS 24: more local, more relevant, closer to the action

An Insights-Interview With Corinna Milborn & Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz

When the Ibiza scandal video about the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) politicians Heinz-Christian Strache and Johann Gudenus became public just over a year ago, this meant not only the end of the government that had been in office until then. Triggered by the explosive news situation and the political hurricane, a news channel was being launched in the 3rd district of Vienna as part of an extensive 360-degree project. The goal: to be more local, closer to the action, and more relevant than anything that had ever before existed in Austria. PULS 24 was born.

Just two months after its launch, the app of the same name had already been downloaded over half a million times. A promising start! After a nine-month period, the number of installations already amounts to more than 750,000. In this interview, Information Director Corinna Milborn and station manager Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz look back on the first nine months and reveal what will await us in the future.

Dynamic duo of daily news: Corinna Milborn (l.) and Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz are living for local live content. The Media Quarter Marx in Vienna being their home base, the PULS 24 teams report daily from all over Austria.
PULS 24 has now been on air for nine months - and is performing successfully! What was the impetus for the 360-degree project?

Corinna Milborn: Having our very own news channel, linear and digital, has always been our dream. We knew we could only compete with the big global social media and streaming companies if we are live, local, and relevant. These three attributes are the reason for our viewers to turn on their TVs. The 'Ibiza video' and the re-election decision in May 2019 merely provided the impetus to start earlier with PULS 24 than initially planned.

Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz: The mere idea to bring this station, this huge project, to life, had by no means arisen from a current situation. When the secretly recorded video about the Ibiza-gate came out, the feeling of how great it would be to have our own news channel had existed for a long time.

To what extent did the management endorse and support your project?

Corinna Milborn: Support is not the right word. Our CEO Markus Breitenecker does not support, he draws. He is committed, drives the project forward, motivates every single one of us. Back then, almost exactly a year ago, we set up a complete station in only three months, created two new TV studios, hired 35 employees, and installed the entire technology. No matter who you would ask, nobody would have said that would be a feasible thing to do. But Markus has this persuasive power. He manages to get everyone to pull together, to think along similar lines.

Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz: We are looking back on a very special first year. With PULS 24, we achieved the most successful station launch in Austrian media history. Around 50 journalists are working on our 24/7 news program these days. We are not only broadcasting from two studios, but are currently building another newsroom studio as well as an additional new control room.

»Our market share is 0.7 percent YTD among 12- to 49-year-olds. All of this makes us incredibly proud.«
Due to the Ibiza-gate and the resulting early Austrian national elections, you started with PULS 24 last fall earlier than originally planned. When exactly did you know you would launch early and how did you experience this moment?

Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz: The video was released on a Friday at 6pm in May 2019. At a time when the current TV show is finished and when everyone is already on weekend-mode, mentally. In our WhatsApp groups and channels, it was all happening. All those who were not on-site at that moment, hit the road right away. "Now it would be nice to have a news channel", was the first text Corinna sent me – and I couldn't help but reply: "Exactly! Let's finally do it!"

Corinna Milborn: It was sheer madness! I was at the playground with my daughter and had promised to put the mobile phone aside for an hour. When I picked it up again, the first clips of the Ibiza video appeared in my phone's news feed. "I'm heading to the station!" were my first words. That was a really big crisis. The moment the video went public, we knew: this is the end of the Vice-Chancellor's term and this government. With the decision of new elections it became very clear to everyone that we had definitely have to start the channel before then.

How did this suddenly shortened launch stage feel?

Corinna Milborn: The launch schedule was so tight that the whole process felt like a long, long live show. A show in which everything interacts and of which every second counts. I remember September, the month we launched, all too well. It was a crazy month. Quite like a long rave, as if we had danced the nights away. We love this – we live for live TV!

Information Director Corinna Milborn and station manager Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz
Initially, you planned PULS 24 to be digital, but then extended it to linear television. How and why did you get there?

Corinna Milborn: We already had a try of implementing a news app some time ago. Our attempt failed, but the experience we gained during the process has been immensely important. The lessons we had drawn from it is that artificial intelligence is an important aspect when it comes to app development. With the help of an AI company, we then brought the PULS 24 app to life, which we launched in May 2019 as a 24/7 video and news channel on our streaming platform ZAPPN. Based on AI, it scans the German-speaking online media world and summarizes the most relevant news in a way that precisely matches the preferences of the users. Despite our passion for all things digital, we quickly realized that only TV develops the power behind news; it attributes relevance to it and stands for reliability. However, thinking digital is of course still essential. During the day, many viewers do not watch linear TV, yet the idea of a TV show is still important to them.

Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz: It was clear to everyone that we would have to be represented on all platforms and channels. Many people do not any longer consume their news via classic TV. On the other hand, we knew that PULS 24 would not become an exclusively digital project. Television still is the strongest genre - as TV makers, we are particularly proud of this, naturally.

You started PULS 24 on September 1, 2019. What was it like to be part of the launch of a new TV station?

Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz: When we went on air for the very first time in our brand-new studio, it really gave us goose bumps. Such a TV producer moment! Our Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen pressed the symbolic start button - and at prime time, Corinna interviewed ÖVP boss Sebastian Kurz. It was great seeing our idea come to life!

How satisfied are you with the response and what is your goal for PULS 24?

Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz: We are very satisfied. Especially with the fact that we managed to set up a new station in a shortened launch period at that time, without anyone noticing the pretty short lead time. The most important thing is to have the feeling of being on the right track. And we had that from the very beginning. We already achieved a market share of 0.4 percent among the younger U50 audience in January. Currently, our market share is 0.7 percent YTD among 12- to 49-year-olds. All of this makes us incredibly proud. 

Corinna Milborn: PULS 24 is an ideal addition to our existing station selection. With our great team and the right ideas, we would like to be Austria's number one news reference, providing both its viewers linearly and its users digitally with good, detailed, and verified local information, standing for superior live reporting.

At the beginning of the year you presented your first major program expansion. What can we look forward to in the near future?

Stefanie Groiss-Horowitz: Due to the corona pandemic, we reacted quickly and changed our news program on PULS 24 to a large extent to special programs. This fall, we will focus on the upcoming elections in Vienna and the United States. We are going to expand our business focus with new shows and are working on some exciting, very controversial talk shows. Sports fans can look forward to the new PULS 24 Sunday, which will be all about live sports. In addition to the popular NFL broadcasts, PULS 24 will exclusively broadcast the Austrian ice hockey league from September onwards. The program catalog is bursting at the seams!

The team achieved the most successful station launch in Austrian media history with PULS 24. Around 50 journalists are currently working on their 24/7 news channel.