Cologne’s ability to attract young, imaginative and creative types has led to the city developing a thriving digital media and wider ICT sector. It hosts a number of educational institutions offering specialist media and ICT courses. This, combined with Cologne's vibrant cultural scene and high quality of life, look set to shift its demographic profile. According to the city council, by 2025 Cologne will have a significantly smaller proportion of its population aged over 65 than other German cities and regions.
The area is also attracting its fair share of ICT companies. Figures from the Cologne Chamber of Commerce and Industry show that the number of businesses operating in this sector totalled 11,185 in 2013.
Cologne is the German media capital, employing about 13,000 people in television and broadcasting alone. WDR, the largest public service radio and television broadcasting corporation in continental Europe, has its headquarters in the city, as does the largest European commercial TV station, RTL. Other leading studios, service providers and broadcasters have a presence in the city as well, including Action Concept, which produces the long-running 'Alarm for Cobra 11 – The Autobahn Police' drama series, which is broadcast in 140 countries.
The city is also a hotspot for software, telecommunications, computer games and smartphone apps producers, hosting big names such as Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Wipro Technologies. According to the City of Cologne, network operator NetCologne has positioned itself as the most successful regional carrier in the EU. Its optical fibre network – with transmission rates of 100 megabits per second – is already regarded as the most modern and efficient regional telecommunications network in Europe.
Major events in the city also boost its reputation as a digital destination. Its main exhibition centre, Koelnmesse, hosts leading games business fair Gamescom. With about 635 exhibitors from 40 countries, Gamescom attracted more than 340,000 visitors in 2013. Koelnmesse is also the venue for new technology trade fair UrbanTec.
An important aspect of the city’s new media and ICT sector is its ecosystem of freelancers and media start-ups. These are supported by a raft of organisations and initiatives, including business incubators and the Office of Economic Development’s Startercenter, aimed at business start-ups. Co-working spaces are also available throughout the city.
Microsoft moved to Cologne in 2008 and now employs about 420 people in the city. Johannes Rosenboom, manager of Microsoft Germany’s office in Cologne, says: “Cologne’s central location, very good traffic infrastructure and important location at the centre of the economy and public sector are important to us.”
The city is also good for technology firms, as Mr Rosenboom points out. “The presence of important media companies, universities, higher education organisations, major fairs such as Gamescom and the cosmopolitan flair of an interesting city make it ideal.”
For Martin Lorber, PR director at computer games manufacturer Electronic Arts Germany, it is the city’s soft factors that make it attractive to new media and ICT companies. He says: “Cologne is known for being open, so it’s easy to come here, set up your private network and find people. Electronic Arts was previously in another German city, and it was difficult to find people to work there, so it’s really important to have a nice city with good infrastructure to get the right people to work here.”
Being a popular city has its downsides, though, such as higher property prices. However, Mr Lorber says: “Finding a flat is not too difficult. Of course, we have high rents, but it’s not as crazy as London or Munich, so that helps when attracting young people.”