Open research notes on investment content marketing strategy and related topics for the week or so before and ahead of April 7, 2014 – from US inequality and “rigged markets” to Putin’s “Back to the Future” story and exporting Chicagoisms globally. A big newsweek.
CNBC, Fox Business Network and Bloomberg TV are all facing increasing growth obstacles as individual investors abandon stocks amidst institutional domination, according to a pithy piece in the Journal today. Ratings Sag for Cable-TV Business News is the best survey I’ve seen of the state of television business news. But it buried the content strategy lede — Bloomberg TV has a huge opportunity to reposition for long-term growth by moving to online only and focusing on institutional investors with a branded content model. So let’s take this 3-point content strategy point by point.
Online-only could transform business news & put BTV in the black
While Bloomberg’s traditional television audience is tiny compared to CNBC and even Fox Business News, its online audience is not only on par with CNBC but growing faster. CNBC had 2.8 million US unique online video viewers in October, almost triple the viewership year over year, according to comScore. Bloomberg has nearly as many uniques — 2.4 million — but that’s more than four times its traffic from a year ago.
According to the Journal’s sources, Bloomberg cut its TV losses in half recently to about $100 million — and is both steadily growing ad revenue and tracking to have its best performance ever in 2013. But ad revenue growth is highly unlikely to overcome the biggest challenge to Bloomberg TV’s bottom line. According to the Journal, the network has a huge drag on financial performance in its distribution model:
Bloomberg is paying cable and satellite companies for distribution, say people familiar with the situation, the reverse of the usual situation for cable channels and an arrangement normally reserved for startup networks. The channel is in about 75 million U.S. homes.
Paying to be in that many homes may not mean much if the right people aren’t watching. Which is a safe bet. Nielsen doesn’t publish Bloomberg TV’s ratings, but why else would they have to pay a premium when others get paid?
Tapping Justin Smith, the exec who led Atlantic Media Group’s digital growth story, and promoting the traditional television veteran to chairman certainly indicates a desire to go bigger online. But Smith is highly unlikely to be able to have any leverage to renegotiate these unsustainable traditional distribution costs. Expensive mainstream television seems to make no strategic sense from any perspective.
Going online only could not only help put Bloomberg TV in the black but also transform television business news by challenging the faulty assumption that cable and satellite distribution is essential to reaching core business audiences. With so much viewing happening at work — and Internet-enabled televisions more and more the norm — reliance on these pricey old distribution models doesn’t add up.
Institutional investors are Bloomberg’s people — recenter
Bloomberg has an estimated 315,000 terminal subscribers — financial professionals which it charges $20,000 or more per year. Simple math shows this was most of Bloomberg’s $7.9 billion in revenue last year.
The essence of content strategy is to develop client personas that enable true client focus in everything a brand does. The institutional audience is the heart of Bloomberg’s brand narrative and attempts to expand beyond that by buying a broader audience have not worked. After nearly 20 years, Bloomberg TV has failed to attract more than 10% of the TV business news audience or make a profit. Refocusing on Bloomberg’s “people” may be a big transition to lead current advertisers through, but it seems inevitable in the long term. This may also be a better long-term path to attracting a smaller, more valuable mainstream audience like high net worth investors. And the hiring of Justin Smith may confirm what I already believe more broadly about the future of business media revenue models and slow death of advertising.
Branded content is the future of business news — lead TV there
Whether this was agreed upon or not during the courtship of Justin Smith, the branded content plays underway at Quartz and other Atlantic Media properties is the future of business news. Time-starved business audiences are increasingly fed up with and likely tuning out traditional advertising even more than mainstream audiences.
Integrating smarter, higher quality content that speaks more directly to business issues with less intrusive branding is spreading quickly among business media innovators from Quartz to Monocle. And it’s attracting big institutional advertisers like Blackrock and Credit Suisse, the latter of which is also a Bloomberg TV+ advertiser (albeit using a more traditional promotional ad in the example above).
So we shall see. Will these three strategic opportunities reposition Bloomberg TV’s brand narrative for long-term growth? Elements of this are certain from the leadership shift indicator alone. Regardless, this is certainly one to watch for anyone in business-to-business marketing and media. Big changes are ahead at Bloomberg.
Strategy scholar Sir Lawrence Freedman shared lessons from ancient Greece to GM and Iraq with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at the Chicago Club Friday night. But the Chicago Council and learned Sir Lawrence buried the brilliant lead — a strategy is not a plan, it’s a long-term growth story.