LONDON -- "They want it. They want it all. They want it everywhere -- whenever, however -- and they want it all," Reuters (RTRSY) CEO Peter Job told investors in London on Tuesday.
He was talking about news. Not just any old news, but news delivered over the Internet. Reuters has finally played its Internet card. It's a move investors have been waiting more than a year for.
Reuters, the world's largest financial news and data provider, announced that it will depart from its previous strategy of selling almost exclusively to financial institutions, which account for 80% of the information giant's current customer base. Instead, it will begin an ambitious plan of targeting the growing European community of private investors.
Job also announced major initiatives designed to accelerate Reuters' use of Internet technologies. He revealed key joint ventures with research-report aggregator
and U.S. wireless company
. These, coupled with last week's
joint venture to provide secure data over the Web, will give Reuters significant distribution capabilities over the Internet.
Traders greeted the news with rapture. Reuters shares rose by 20% in their biggest one-day rise in over a decade; New York-traded ADRs surged 26 1/8, or 26%, to 125 1/2.
Job himself may not sound like an Internet guru -- he delivered gung-ho statements like "the Internet could have been created for Reuters" with all the dynamism of limp lettuce -- but that did nothing to dampen the market's spirits.
Reiko Strauss, an analyst at
Warburg Dillon Read
, says Reuters is making the right move in seeking partners to marry its content and brand name with stronger distribution networks.
"Combining strengths from both parties creates cost and revenue synergies," she says. "With a joint venture, you get all the benefits of a merger without the messiness of integration. Furthermore, there is huge potential to unlock value in the form of a future IPO."
To a certain extent, the enthusiasm over the new strategy is justified -- it is what the City, as London's financial district is known, has wanted. However, the rise is probably overly optimistic and should level out in coming days. The news, after all, was expected; astute investors could have picked up Reuters shares a month ago for 39% less.
Reuters is regrouping its main businesses and rerouting its traditional products -- news and financial data -- over the Internet. The company is also going to change its traditional style of news reporting to target a wider audience of retail investors.
Reuters, of course, is in a pretty good position to jump on the world's current passion for news and information about the financial markets. As Job himself pointed out, the group has a vast global editorial team that covers every major region.
Still, there are issues Job must address.
First, cost. The reorganization, which will include a charge of 300 million pounds ($483.80 million) over two years, will cause profit in Reuters' largest division to move "significantly lower" this year, the company said. The migration to Internet technology will cost 500 million pounds over four years.
Second, time. Its plan to build a retail investor site to compete with existing sites, including
, the publisher of this Web site, is ambitious. It will have to start from scratch, but Job says that within a year Reuters will create a site giving private investors access to Reuters news and data, as well as the trading services of its
Third, the dynamic between institutional and retail clients. Job was elusive about how Reuters was going to manage subscribers. Its traditional sales income comes from sales of the Reuters financial information terminals and trading systems. Reuters will continue with this institutional business, but will offer services in tiered subscriptions. It is hard to charge people different prices for essentially the same product.
Fourth, content. No one disputes that Reuters' most valuable asset is news content and data. But this is targeted at institutions. Job failed to address how Reuters will adapt its editorial for the man on the street. Nor do institutions want a dumbed-down version of news.
Fifth, competition. Reuters itself has been forced to make this move by investors who saw Reuters' dependence on premium news under threat from news providers who distribute content free over the Internet. Job dismissed the "young Internet start-up news providers" as overvalued, lacking in experience, assets and editorial quality. Maybe, but the U.S. experience has shown that the most successful Internet sites --
-- are start-ups that do not carry the baggage of existing management and technologies.
Still, Reuters' move onto the Net is long overdue. The value in the group's content was undoubted -- it was its lack of direction on distribution that was the problem. The question isn't whether it made the right move, but rather, whether it has waited too long to morph from a wire service into an Internet company.