From our first day in business, Bloomberg was making news, with numbers
—Mike Bloomberg and a modest ambition
While most news organizations today are listing in the high seas of the digital world, Bloomberg News has proven to be an adventurous and successful competitor. They started with a key asset, the Bloomberg terminal, and a gaping niche – business journalism. As it has grown, it’s become an instrument of recognition for the entire Bloomberg enterprise, a sales tool, and a critical hedge against competition.
Bloomberg seems to have demonstrated that it’s possible to make money from reporting the news. It’s a fierce competitor to the Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other business reporting. It runs a thriving business. But Bloomberg isn’t interested in selling news feeds. Indeed, much of it is given away for free on the web portal. Bloomberg gives it away because it wants to eliminate the profit margin in delivering the news, so it can starve competitors and enhance the value of the terminal. It wants to make the news a commodity.
Bloomberg’s entry into journalism would push traditional news sources to improve their coverage and respond to Bloomberg News. The underlying dataset in the Bloomberg platform gave them a distinct informational advantage over the competition. The information and analytics on financial instruments was just not widely available and not something on which traditional news sources had focused. As Bloomberg says, they were already in the news business – just with numbers. The terminal had become, for example, the de facto source of pricing for US Treasuries and replaced the Federal Reserve’s daily pricing sheet with a Bloomberg terminal at the offices of the AP. Each day, when the AP published the closing Treasury prices, sourced and attributed to Bloomberg, they were effectively running a news story, or an advertisement – take your pick. This unique resource separated them from the competition, gave them pricing power and promoted the terminal – all in one stroke.
Business journalism at the time also lacked the luster of reporting on riots, elections, and wars. Journalism schools didn’t teach business and finance reporting. The mainstream, national press would gloss over financial markets on the way toward bigger stories. As Bloomberg remarks, “Even at the Wall Street Journal, it was rare to find top editors who included among their accomplishments daily stints covering stocks and bonds.” Bloomberg News would enter a seemingly uncontested field. In 1988, Bloomberg marshalled Matt Winkler to enter the fray.
Bloomberg News also provided a much-needed hedge against the possibility of losing key news-suppliers, such as Dow Jones. Bloomberg had already eaten into the Dow Jones Telerate business. While Telerate presented static images of Treasury prices, Bloomberg users were presented with live data on which they could run analytics. When Dow Jones did respond, they pulled the plug on their feeds to Bloomberg, expecting that Bloomberg customers would come back to Telerate and abandon the Bloomberg platform. It turned out that clients found Bloomberg News sufficient: at worst, good enough to get the job done and, at best, invaluable in combination with the underlying dataset. Dow Jones eventually relented six months later and resumed delivering their feeds through the Bloomberg platform. Telerate would later be shut down.
The rapidly growing news enterprise advanced and protected the Bloomberg franchise. It spread the reputation and influence of the Bloomberg organization, and this sold more Bloombergs. More Bloombergs funded more news, and Bloomberg news became increasingly visible beyond the terminal. It worked its way into radio and television first. Then it began traditional print syndication, and syndication brought Bloomberg’s business reporting to the New York Times, among others. With these outlets, the Bloomberg brand became more prominent, more potent. It sold more Bloombergs.
The news division at Bloomberg was never designed to sell the news. It was designed to sell Bloombergs. It started with a market niche and a key asset – business reporting and the terminal. But it rapidly evolved into an important hedge against the risk of key suppliers, such as Dow Jones, cutting off Bloomberg as a customer. When Dow Jones dared to do so, Bloomberg had won. Bloomberg news was good enough to be a substitute or an improvement on most serious business and financial reporting from Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the FT, the New York Times, and anyone else who might have contact with their customers. Business and financial news reporting, at first an area of distinction for Bloomberg, had become a commodity.
Because Bloomberg doesn’t need to sell the news, those that do are at a disadvantage. They rely on profit margins from distribution, sales and subscriptions to the news. Bloomberg doesn’t. Bloomberg makes money through subscriptions, but they’re subscriptions to the terminal. The news is just another commodity, and it suits Bloomberg just fine to see it have commodity-margins. It just makes the terminal more valuable.