Bloomberg Cuts Back on Political Coverage Amid Slowing Terminal Growth

Kevin Reynolds, the irascible, longtime leader of Bloomberg's headlines team, was fond of saying that any of his writers were worth more to the company than any other reporter in the newsroom.

After all, the headlines team supplies a flood of financial information to Bloomberg's roughly 328,000 clients, which each pay more than $20,000 a year to have the firm's power-packed terminal on their desk.

Reynolds, who left the company a year ago, also was fond of saying that more than 25% of Bloomberg's clients -- fund managers, traders, institutional investors and company executives -- had little interest in anything but headlines.

And as anyone in finance knows, Bloomberg's headlines move markets. The same can't be said about political coverage.

With the end of the 2016 presidential election, Bloomberg this week announced a reorganization of its political coverage amid a five-year slowdown in terminal sales. The overhaul, revealed in staff memos on Thursday, included replacing the editor of struggling Bloomberg Businessweek while consolidating its political and markets coverage.

Businessweek is being remade, with the company setting a springtime relaunch aimed at emphasizing the nuts and bolts of business and finance while taking other steps to offset an overall decline in print advertising sales.

Political teams in New York and Washington will be consolidated, with some Businessweek staffers moving into the general newsroom. Its markets team will combine with its online operations and First Word, a group that writes quick bullet-point news summaries. Bloomberg declined comment apart from confirming the staff memos.

Political coverage at Bloomberg has long been a point of contention at the company. Friction between its Washington bureau and top executives in New York often has centered on whether political coverage helped to increase terminal sales. Those advocating for political coverage argued it was essential to better inform the company's clients, regardless of their initial reason for subscribing.

But in recent years, Bloomberg's terminal growth has slowed. No longer is the company adding net subscribers at a rate of 5% or more each year. The compound annual growth rate for Bloomberg's terminal business over the past five years has been 1.8%, said Douglas B. Taylor, founder of Burton-Taylor International Consulting, which tracks financial services companies. 

"Terminal growth over the past five years has slowed dramatically," Taylor said from Sarasota, Fla. "If Bloomberg were to end this year with one net positive terminal, they'd probably consider that a good year."

At the end of 2015, Bloomberg had contracts for 327,630 terminals, Taylor said; the number for 2016 will be very similar. At the end of 2011, Bloomberg had 313,900 terminal clients.

The slowdown has many causes. Among them are the emergence of the kinds of "small, scrappy" competitors that Michael Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor, said typified his namesake company when it began operating 35 years ago to provide bond traders with real-time pricing information.

Though much smaller than Bloomberg, which has annual revenue of around $8.9 billion, according to Taylor, companies such as FactSet (FDS) ; Symphony, which is backed by Goldman Sachs (GS) ; and Money.net have shown they can win customers that might not need all of Bloomberg's offerings.

"There's no question that right now, Bloomberg faces more and different kinds of competition than it ever has," Taylor said. "Where these other services are gaining ground is on the margins, folks who might not be directly involved in markets on a day-to-day basis and want a lower-priced alternative."

And competitors aren't standing still. For example, FactSet, which had revenue of $1.1 billion for the year ended Aug. 31, bulked up its capabilities by paying $265 million for automated trading technology provider Portware in October 2015.

Despite the flattening of Bloomberg's terminal business, the company has found other ways to grow, largely from data feeds used to price and value portfolios and a variety of securities, some of which are thinly traded. Bloomberg in August acquired the indices and risk analytics business of Barclays (BCS) in a £520 million ($647 million) deal.

Bloomberg has divested other noncore businesses, such as Bloomberg Sports in 2014, but the terminal portion of Bloomberg's revenue has fallen from a high of 95% some 10 years ago to about 80%, Taylor said. To be sure, terminal revenue continues to grow as a result of higher fees.

Within this context, Bloomberg is shifting resources meant to leverage its approximately 2,600 journalists and analysts worldwide.

The changes planned for Businessweek are certain to mark a departure for a magazine that won wide appeal for edgy and in-depth reporting accented by captivating covers that might feature an American flag stained with oil, a private equity executive holding a chainsaw or a hedge fund manager superimposed on a green stock chart arrow doubling as a phallic symbol.

But despite a subscriber base of nearly 1 million, Businessweek continues to lose more than $20 million a year, a source familiar with the magazine said. Declining ad sales are forcing legacy print titles in all categories to change their business strategies.

Bloomberg acquired Businessweek from McGraw-Hill in 2009 for $5 million, plus the assumption of liabilities totaling about $32 million.

Businessweek will continue to publish 48 issues a year. Otis Bilodeau, who was tasked a year ago with better integrating the newsroom with Bloomberg Television, will be moved to Businessweek as deputy editor. 

Ellen Pollock, who took over as Businessweek editor 13 months ago, was replaced by Megan Murphy, its Washington bureau chief. Pollock left the company on Thursday, part of a larger reorganization in which about 30 reporters worldwide will be laid off, the source said. Pollock's deputy editor, Brad Wieners, resigned.

Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's political show, All Due Respect, will be discontinued at Bloomberg Television.

TheStreet is a customer of Bloomberg and FactSet.

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