Bloomberg LP Launches Franchise in Unusual Collaboration

Attempt to grow media side of the business

Bloomberg LP is launching a new franchise that involves an unprecedented amount of collaboration between its business units. The Year Ahead: 2014, a primer for CEOs, will involve 10 platforms across the company producing a special issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, a two-day conference in Chicago, an online research tool and TV and radio content. 

The company is looking to franchises like The Year Ahead, which has been in the works for more than a year, to grow its small and newish media arm amid slowing sales of its financial data subscriptions, the bedrock of its multi-billion dollar business. One way to do that is to leverage the financial data the company sells to subscribers, commonly referred to as the terminal business, with a broader audience, and this initiative is an attempt to do just that.

“The company’s ambition is to grow in the media space, with the launch of television and radio and the acquisition of Bloomberg Businessweek,” said Justin Smith, Bloomberg’s new global media CEO. “A key part of our strategy will be leveraging our data heritage at the company and better distribution of that information.”

Bloomberg's business model came into an unwelcome spotlight over the weekend with a front-page New York Times report stating that Bloomberg killed stories on China for fear of retaliation by that country's government. Bloomberg swiftly denied it postponed the stories due to external pressure. 

Other news organizations have run into trouble over their coverage of China. But Bloomberg's situation is made more complicated by the fact that it also depends on China for sales of its terminals; indeed, the Times pointed out that Bloomberg's terminal sales had slowed in China for a time. It's not the first time questions have been raised about the implications, good and bad, of Bloomberg's moving deeper into the news business. More about that here

Those thorny issues notwithstanding, Bloomberg seems headed towards more, not less, interdependence among its business units. All told, the company expects The Year Ahead to be its biggest revenue-producing franchise to date. A special issue of Businessweek on sale Nov. 14 will carry an estimated 111 ad pages, its biggest since 1999. The related Year Ahead conference on Nov. 20-21 has seven sponsors, including Boston Consulting Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers and UPS. 

Events are a growing business for publishers like Smith’s last employer, The Atlantic, as well as Fortune, The New York Times, and even Cosmopolitan, who find in them a steady source of revenue as their traditional print ad base shrinks. Events let marketers get in front of potential customers, while producing content for the host publication and promoting its brand with potential and existing readers. “Not only can you put advertisers in front of live prospects, but you can curate video from the conference,” said Hugh Wiley, publisher of Bloomberg Businessweek. 

With events for business leaders proliferating, there’s always a risk of overload. Smith admitted it’s almost “a joke of sorts that there are so many events,” but said Bloomberg’s upcoming summit is distinguished by its high-level speakers like Barry Diller, Eric Schmidt and Charles Schwab. “Events are crowded, but the number of people who do events at a very, very high level is very few.”