Bloomberg is in some ways a strange beast: A world famous $10bn+ revenue media company that isn’t really a media company.
Not that you’d necessarily know that from its recent announcement of plans to build up its UK coverage with a roster of new hires, dedicated site and more consumer facing content including podcasts and events, all as a first step in an, at this point, very vaguely sketched international plan.
Bloomberg’s editor in chief John Micklethwait (ex The Economist) described the move as “widening our lens beyond the City to chart the future of British business in all its forms, telling the story of the new industries and startups that are reshaping post-Brexit Britain as well as the big beasts of the FTSE100.”
The New York Times – given an early peak at the plans – billed the move slightly more broadly as a bid to compete “directly” with the UK press, but it’s not hard to see the obvious competitors Bloomberg is going for. They were, in fact, named as the main sources of quality news in the UK (other than the BBC) by Michael Bloomberg himself: “the Financial Times, The Economist, The Times of London”.
It’s the Financial Times you’d think might have the most to worry about. As the most obvious, business-focused UK news brand – but one which has always mixed in wider coverage of politics and culture – it’s clearly the key competitor Bloomberg is eyeing.
Access to the two titles is similarly priced as well, with the FT costing £319 for full digital access and Bloomberg at £350. Unsurprisingly, of course, Bloomberg is however aggressively discounting for new UK signups, offering the first three months at 50p a month or a full first year at £149. In comparison, an FT trial is £1 for just four weeks.
The vibe inside Bloomberg’s UK newsroom is one of excitement, but getting journalists that have largely been encouraged to avoid focusing on the UK, let alone looking at areas far further off the core beat, will involve a change of mindset more than anything else.
It will be helped of course by those new hires, coming in under a new UK editor, BBC veteran Victoria Wakely. Among a pretty impressive haul of names are Emma Barnett, a BBC radio presenter who previously worked at the Daily Telegraph, outgoing UK Politico Playbook editor Alex Wickham, and Olivia Solon, the former Daily Mirror journalist who joins after a stint as NBC’s tech investigations editor. Of the three, Barnett has the CV least directly connected to business, while Wickham and Solon can be seen as more business adjacent even if they don’t actually join from business brands.
Whether that’s enough to take on the FT, or indeed The Times of London or the rest of the British national dailies – which have years of experience and extensive pools of talent when it comes to pleasing readers interested in more than the financial markets – is another matter.
The one thing that the FT and the rest don’t have, of course, is the thing that really makes money for Bloomberg – The Terminal.
Previously a literal box that would sit on the desks of bankers and anyone else willing to stump up tens of thousands of pounds a year, it is access to Bloomberg’s market data that generates the great majority of the company’s revenue.
That, of course, isn’t part of Bloomberg’s media offering (even if much of the information is generated by reporters). But it does mean Bloomberg has two things, deep pockets, plus the added advantage of a wealth of data that can be turned into the kind of impressive data journalism the UK operation has just put out about the UK government’s “levelling up” regional economic agenda.
And there is an interesting comparison with Bloomberg’s existing, most clearly ‘consumer’ style product. Bloomberg Pursuits is a glossy magazine distributed primarily to those who may already have access to a terminal. It may not be quite as obviously named as the FT’s own “How To Spend It” weekend supplement. But, if anything, it’s more clearly aimed at some 300k high net-worth people – and the luxury advertising that follows them.
Bloomberg apparently wants to attract a potential audience of 7m affluent professional Brits, but, at its price point, the addressable audience seems much smaller. The FT has 1m digital subscribers, but more than half of those are outside the UK. Bloomberg may well pick up a fair number of people willing to pay an additional few hundred pounds, but it is difficult to see hundreds of thousands of them switching from the FT, let alone The Times. But it remains to be seen how it may use its existing TV, radio and online media as part of the campaign to broaden the Bloomberg brand in the UK.
But for Bloomberg, more than many other media businesses, a slow burn may not matter much. Building up prestige in the UK and a few more connections with the country’s wealthy, will only help maintain its lucrative terminal business. And if, as with Bloomberg Pursuits, there are some direct financial benefits, in this case as a result of a decent number of new subscriptions, then all the better. Revolutions aren’t really Bloomberg’s style, the markets don’t like them. It’s a long game.