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Bloomberg Wants to Win at Video

Year-old digital desk cranks out 200 clips a day, exploring big distribution deal

It’s time for Bloomberg TV’s noon news meeting on this Thursday, a meeting that is sandwiched around two momentous events: the day after the new Pope was announced and the day Samsung will release its new Galaxy S4 phone.

The packed conference room is younger and more business casual than you might think. Nobody’s in suits, there are even a few pairs of jeans, and the people occasionally even laugh. If you’re looking for the culty robot Bloomberg stereotype here, you won’t find it.

A young bearded producer, Matthew Levine, is leading the meeting, talking about the various new features for the S4, before shifting topics to the JPMorgan Senate hearing scheduled for the next day, or the "Jamie Dimon Whale trial." “We want to emphasize how we got here,” Levine told the group. “We broke this story. It’s something that we want to flog ... this hearing is effectively happening because of Bloomberg. Certainly we don’t want to lose sight of that”

Besides beating the drum on JP Morgan, the team has an interview with incoming Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that afternoon. Later, the discussion shifts to some lighter news items planned for the following day, a Friday. There’s a story in the works about the lives of animal actors. “We have some just great alligator footage we can use,” said a staffer.

The news meeting encapsulates Bloomberg in several ways. The company has huge ambitions. It’s got great access. It’s also noteworthy that in a room full of TV producers, the Web video guys are in the meeting, chiming in on programming decisions, maybe even how things are shot. That's because Bloomberg wants to change how business TV looks and feels. And it wants to own business Web video.

“Yesterday this place was bonkers during the Pope news,” said Chris Berend, executive producer, video development and production, pointing to the cubicleless news room where he works. It’s not exactly quiet. There are numerous live shots being filmed right alongside reporters working the phones. For a moment, Berend can’t return to his desk. “See that shot they’re filming. We can get clips on the Web really quick. We don’t have to wait until tonight at 5."

It didn’t used to be that way. Berend’s boss, Andrew Morse, head of U.S. television at Bloomberg, tells the story about when Rupert Murdoch was on trial during the U.K. phone hacking scandal in 2011. Some guy jumped up during Murdoch’s testimony and tried to attack him with a pie, but Mrs. Murdoch famously intervened.

“It took us 17 minutes to turn around a 15-second voiceover,” said Morse. “We’re seeing it up on the screen on various networks in seconds, and it took us 17 minutes. And I went wild. As of two years ago, we were not set up the way a video news operation ought to be set up.”

So Morse took to fixing that. Over the past year plus, the company has formally established a "digital video desk" aimed at cranking up production and speeding workflow. Berend was brought on last year to start bringing digital thinking into nearly every TV production decision. His team started churning out more originals to populate a new video section on the Bloomberg.com. And Bloomberg has ramped up its syndication business, pushing out Web videos to local stations and newspapers that already run the company’s text news content.

The numbers look good so far. According to internal data, Bloomberg.com’s unique users were up 14 percent in January at 14.5 million. Video views are up 148 percent, netting out at 17.3 million in January. Berend and his team create more than 200 clips a day. Per Morse, a Murdoch video today “would be up in seconds.”

Part of that growth is driven by better systems, technology and the company’s overall philosophy. But it’s also the result in rethinking what Bloomberg looks like (hence the alligator conversation from earlier).

According to Berend, sitting in an editing bay away from the intense cameras-everywhere newsroom bustle, business news has generally lacked creativity, or even basic TV storytelling skills. And on the flip side, the Web was treated as a medium that was almost supposed to look amateurish.

"Too often Web video becomes synonymous with crappy video," Berend said. "We’re actually saying, 'No, Web video and digital video needs to be really super eye-catching video because it’s often experienced on small screens.'

"If I’m talking about an oil report, I can put up a talking head, I can put up a chart, or i can put up pictures of awesome oil derricks," Berend added. "You’re probably going to watch the oil derricks. That’s just good video period. That’s what it’s really about.”

“Business news is cool in a way that when ESPN broke on the scene 30 years ago, they started covering sports in a different way,” said Morse.

Morse doesn’t say it, but Bloomberg also seems free from some of the MSO worries many of his cable brethren have when it comes to Web video. Plus, the company isn’t necessarily fixated on displacing CNBC as the default Wall Street office TV network.

“This is a whole different crowd,” Berend explained. “That’s how they interact with us. They don't necessarily watch us on TV. Or they watch us time-shifted in Asia. That’s the biggest thing to understand about this place. We propped up operationally our distribution system and our production system with TV-level resources. And then began to pretty quickly shift our production focus and inform our edit focus by knowing what will work on the Web.”

Knowing what works is one thing. Bloomberg probably needs more eyeballs to get brands totally excited. Per comScore, Bloomberg.com attracted about 1.1 million unique video viewers in February. And those folks generated 5.1 million streams. That’s right in line with CNBC, and more than Reuters, CNN Money and Fox Business. But that’s also miles from the view numbers for giants like AOL Money & Finance (5 million) and Yahoo Finance (8.8).

Thus, Bloomberg says it’s talking to device makers, portals and major online video services about distribution deals. Plus, Berend said the company is planning more branded entertainment series. He teased an original shoot in the Arizona desert with "cars, sexy stuff."

According to officials, Bloomberg has enjoyed a 200 percent year over year increase in the number of video advertisers in 2012 vs 2011. Robin Steinberg, evp, MediaVest, said her team has been impressed with the company's video push to date, but is still evaluating its offerings and its ad rates.

“As of today, they are not a player in the video upfronts and newfronts, but they are opening the door to explore a Bloomberg-wide video package," she said. "While their strategic approach is impressive, delivering high-quality capabilities in real time, proof is in the performance on multiple levels. And price is a big factor."

Steinberg suggested that Bloomberg might emulate Forbes, which enables brands to publish content on its platform. Morse doesn’t want to commit to anything. “We’re open to all kinds of possibilities for partnership and sponsorships ... we’re living in a world with eyes wide open. The answer no isn’t something we give a lot around here.”

“This is a company that wants to win,” adds Berend. “We have the ability to make better stuff than anybody else does.”

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