Memo to Bloomberg's New CEO of Multimedia
The MarketWatch founder on standing up for digital platforms in a traditional television operation.
Welcome to the new (media) world. Bloomberg is a great place for you to return to the news world. I see you'll be running all of multimedia for the company, which includes interactive, and I wanted to pass along some observations from another traditional media guy who moved into the converging new media world many years ago.
First, let me warn you that the interactive part of this gig is a much tougher job than it appears, especially since you’ve got responsibility for traditional television and radio operations...in fact, because you’ll have television and radio operations. It's also going to be a bit more complicated because the real profit in the company comes from a small but rich and powerful group of customers who pay a lot of money for a Bloomberg terminal, which, in turn, makes them a lot of money. The people who actually sell those terminals to the masters of the financial universe will not be all that thrilled to give you their hard-earned money to put it into products meant for—well, let's just say it—common people.
Even though almost everyone in your new company is scared of the Internet because they think putting a lot of stuff on the free Internet will hurt terminal sales, THEY ARE WRONG! DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM! They are evildoers!
Oddly enough, even though Bloomberg customers were among the first in the world to have email capability and have been getting their news from an Internet-like operation for decades, most of the people in the company treat the Internet as an afterthought and don’t think it should get any of the company's resources. For this set, Bloomberg’s Internet presence is more of a threat to the business than a help.
When you try to grow interactive operations in a company that also has television and radio, it's hard for your fellow executives to understand why the company would spend any money expanding operations that can't return significant profits for some time, and even then won’t match the kind of revenue both TV and radio should be generating now. They will use words like “black hole” and try to convince you that investment money should go to the existing TV and radio assets that have been around for some time.
Of course, Bloomberg TV and Radio spend a huge amount of money now on national and international operations and don't appear to be making any profits themselves. Just as the news operations were an “investment” needed to make the terminals more and more attractive, TV and radio have long been seen as an investment in the Bloomberg brand in news.
But in today’s financially challenged environment, you’ll likely be expected to make those businesses profitable, too. You are well-equipped to run a terrific broadcast news operation, and I know you can help build Bloomberg TV and Radio into news powerhouses. You couldn’t ask for a more target-rich environment for financial news. The two emotions that drive the markets—and people to the financial pages—are fear and greed. We’ve got plenty of both right now. As a former business reporter at The Washington Post, I might suggest, based on everything I can see happening in our financial markets and government, some more investigative reporting, but that’s another email.
Now, let’s get to the Internet. Here’s where I want to give you some advice.
You may have just taken on the most important media convergence job in history. You will have unrivaled journalistic resources, a terrific technology team, a motivated management, a nonpublic company that can largely ignore outside influences, and a massive, healthy core business throwing off terrific cash flow. These are all qualities pretty much gone from the rest of the media landscape. So, for all of us in the media business, you da man.
Look squarely to the future, not the present, and build a true multimedia news business. Bloomberg may be the only media company in the world that can truly afford to manage the transition of a news operation from individual platforms to multiple platforms. All of the others in this game are too dependent on huge but shrinking advertising revenue in traditional print, TV, and radio. They’re also largely public companies required to report quarterly to shareholders, which discourages them from making investments that take more than a quarter to pay off. And this transition is complicated, so it's going to take more time.
You have a public that is rapidly moving to interactive platforms for their news, especially financial news, which historically has a short shelf life and therefore is worth more if you can get it quickly. That means it comes to you wherever you are and into whatever equipment you’ve got, from BlackBerries to Dick Tracy watches. And you have an advertising world whose audience is shifting quickly to interactive platforms but is unsure how to engage that audience on those platforms. Ad spending, which is slowing everywhere, wants to be in this new space but doesn’t yet know how to do it.
Go ahead and build Bloomberg TV into a powerhouse around the world, and make Bloomberg Radio a major player on all audio platforms. But on the web front, don’t just improve the website, seize the day. Use the digital platform to build the news business of the future, where storytelling makes liberal use of all forms of media...text, audio, video, photography, combined into one powerful news product. Here’s the best part: Even though almost everyone in your new company is scared of the Internet because they think putting a lot of stuff on the free Internet will hurt terminal sales, THEY ARE WRONG! DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM! They are evildoers!
The fact is, even though all Bloomberg terminal subscribers get the news on their terminals, it’s the way the news is integrated into all that other data and information that makes it so valuable. No one will stop subscribing to a Bloomberg terminal purely because the news is available somewhere else. Without the other financial data—both real time and historical—the news just won’t give a Bloomberg terminal user enough. The speed with which everything moves on the terminal is also unchallenged. It’s like a private Internet, without the spikes and other issues that can slow the Internet down.
The presentation of news on the new digital platforms will be different. It will more liberally mix sight, sound, and text into a broader package of information for a broader audience. And with your help, the advertisers will figure out how to engage your users, too.
Man, are you going to have fun!