MQM: A New Home For Media Companies
The Price of Progress - These media companies have high aspirations, but it's hard to see the future from way out here
"Welcome to the future!" shouts the sign outside the Media Quarter Marx (MQM), proclaiming a complex aim to be ahead of its time.
The red brick buildings that once stood alone on a gaping lot are now joined by futuristic glass in a campus-like atmosphere, with pathways interrupted by pleasant outdoor seating.
But unlike Vienna’s downtown university campus, this one is 30 minutes away. And with the exception of "rush" hours, the vast spaces are largely empty.
The MQM is cramped between the Südosttangente motorway (A23), drab parking lots and meat processing plants. The area, called Neu Marx, has lived through several re-thinks over the last decade.
In 1988, for example, the city lured pharmaceutical groups and biotech start-ups to the Campus Vienna Biocenter, launching one of the most important centres for life sciences in Central Europe. Now, over 6,000 people work in the former no-man’s-land.
This newest media addition to Neu Marx is different. At the various TV, print and publishing enterprises, many question the choice to move here. Are they really "looking into the future", "archiving the future", "shaping the future" as the MQM signs and links on the Internet announce?
This call seems presumptuous, or at least premature.
Entering the complex, you pass though a wrought iron gate guarded by gigantic bulls – recalling MQM’s slaughterhouse past. To your left is MQM 3, housing the Austrian private TV channel Puls 4, owned by the German ProSiebenSat1 Media AG. Along with the Wiener Zeitung, Puls 4 shares the space with Echo Medienhaus, creative start-ups and other smaller enterprises.
"From here, you can see beyond the confines of the media-scope," said Thomas Seifert, Managing Editor of the Austrian Daily Wiener Zeitung, who enjoys the MQM’s philosophy of co-operative co-existence.
For Puls 4, it was a chance to bring together the pieces of a fragmented enterprise.
"The surroundings are very positive," said Theres Gasser, Puls 4’s online editor. Last fall’s move combined offices that had been at three different downtown locations. "Finally," she sighed, "we are all under one roof."
Still, the move presented serious logistical challenges, as Werner Stolarz, head of daily programming, readily admits. "For a TV station, the decision is an extremely difficult one, because we have to be continuously on the air," he said.
Outside his office on the seventh floor of the MQM 3, editors busily type, curse, pace, grab for the phone – the usual cacophony typical of an open-plan newsroom.
Space is not the only perk; with it comes HD capacity in the state-of-the-art TV studio, not only the second largest in Austria but, according to Stolarz, among the best in Europe.
Downstairs, the Wiener Zeitung’s editorial offices are all on the same floor – a big advantage over the former location near Südbahnhof, said Christoph Irrgeher of the Feuilleton section.
Here, the journalists hunker down in sterile offices: Even the writers of the future need to concentrate. The Arts editors hold meetings in the "Thinking Factory", a communal couch that keeps gatherings more informal.
Here, benefits seem to have less to do with space, and more with media neighbours – like a recent collaboration with Puls 4. When Thomas Seifert returned from a trip to Lebanon, he called his "colleagues upstairs" about using his film material.
That same day, Puls 4 cutters turned it into a 3-minute news story, linking to his online article. While Seifert learns about TV, Puls 4 profits from his foreign news expertise and regularly invites him to panel discussions.
So near and yet so far
"Location isn’t everything," remarked the head of a start-up in the MQM, who requested anonymity.
For her, whoever does the best work gets the job, not the one that happens to be nearby. One year after the move, she feels the rent (high, for a small company like hers) hasn’t yet paid off.
While these problems are only discussed off the record, the complex’s infrastructure issues are apparent. A shortcut has been created to the U3 stop Schlachthausgasse to shorten the distance for journalists to get downtown.
But it’s not enough.
"It makes a difference if it takes you five minutes to walk to a press conference in the Federal Chancellery or 20 minutes to drive," stressed Puls 4’s Stolarz.
In fact, according to Wiener Zeitung’s Seifert, the MQM could be a metaphor for the changing role of media in society.
As the profits for the so-called "legacy media" have plummeted, their downtown premises have been taken over by financial institutions –
as is the case with the news magazine profil.
Also, many 1st District buildings are not adaptable to modern technology, while the MQM 3 offers high-speed Internet access and an energy-efficient cooling system.
Being far away may be a necessary evil.
The lack of infrastructure also demands self-sufficiency. Other than an outdoor coffee stand, culinary choices are limited. The nine-to-five opening hours of the only on-site eatery, the Marx Restauration, are not compatible with long workdays in the media.
"The City of Vienna could have put a little more effort into that," Werner Stolarz said. As a result, many working at MQM choose the T-Mobile cafeteria at noon, order take-out or bring lunch from home. At night, well, pickings are slim.
Lipstick on a pig
So the jury is still out. Silvia Kopilovitsch "would never have built a media district out here in the first place." The commute is just one problem for the planner in Puls 4’s broadcast scheduling department. However, she applauds the effort: "It’s difficult to do something this size in the city centre."
Just around the corner, a mall complex in the 19th century Rinderhalle is in the planning stages. With completion expected by 2015, some at MQM hope for more vitality in the area.
Some key steps have been taken: With help from the Campus Vienna Biocenter, a kindergarten has been created, and a second on-site restaurant is scheduled to open in May, according to MQM’s management.
For Thomas Seifert, it is important to keep in mind that the area is still "under construction". His window at the Wiener Zeitung looks out on an empty lot, intended for the new ORF building. For now, Austria’s national broadcaster’s plans to build its new headquarters at MQM seem to be off the table.
In front of the parking space, a sign says: "The future lies before you." The only thing that can be said right now, however, is that it is still a work in progress.
With additional reporting by Richard Solder