Bloomberg Media CEO Justin B Smith on new 24/7 streaming channel Quicktake and reaching 250,000 subscribers

As a business news giant with operations in 120 countries, Bloomberg Media suffered from the reverberations of Covid-19 across all major markets this year as the crisis plunged advertising and events industries into chaos.

Yet, when asked about the financial performance of Bloomberg’s consumer media division, chief executive Justin B Smith sounds breezily upbeat – and he was speaking to Press Gazette before news of Pfizer’s “milestone” vaccine.

“It feels like we’re going to emerge from this pandemic in a relatively strong position,” he says. “We didn’t do any layoffs, we didn’t do any furloughs, we did no salary cuts. In fact, we went the opposite way… it’s been a year of investment and growth.”

This investment includes the launch earlier this week of a new 24/7 streaming news channel operating under Bloomberg’s new Quicktake brand.

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A quarter of a million subscribers

On the growth front, Smith reveals Bloomberg has more than doubled the number of subscribers to its news website this year (as distinct from its newswire Bloomberg terminal business). The company now boasts 250,000 active subscriptions, 40% of which are outside of the United States.

Several large media groups have experienced strong subscriber growth this year as readers, keen to keep abreast of Covid-19 developments, have warmed to the idea of paying for news.

But, with its subscriptions up about 130% over the past year, few have experienced the same level of growth as Bloomberg. (Although the financial news giant started at a lower base than many rivals, having gone behind its metered paywall in 2018. The Wall Street Journal, as a comparison, has more than 3m subscribers.)

“I think, like a lot of publishers, we saw a spike [in subscriber numbers between March and May] that tapered down a little bit [over the summer] but still tapered down to a level that was above where we were in the prior year,” says Smith.

“But we’ve seen a significant rebound again in September and October. Which is a combination of things, [including] the news cycle. A lot of our subscription business is tied to news and information, which is tied to current events and what’s going on – so the election and the gyrations in the financial market globally. All of those factors have played into our renewed growth in the fall.

“Overall it’s been our best year ever [for subscriptions]. We’ve only been selling digital subscriptions for two and a half years – we started in May of 2018. So we have a short track record, but this year has been a very significant acceleration.”

Bloomberg, which charges readers $39.99 a month for access to its site, expects its news subscriptions to bring in a nine-figure turnover next year.

Quicktake targets young viewers ready to ‘cut the cord’ on traditional media

Businessman-turned-politician Mike Bloomberg founded his eponymous company in 1981 as a provider of financial and business information. Today, the company has around 20,000 staff and an estimated annual turnover of more than $10bn.

In addition to the information side of its business – which services financial institutions across the world through its data terminals – Bloomberg also has one of the world’s largest media operations, employing 2,700 journalists and incorporating the news website and Bloomberg TV.

As of this week, Bloomberg Media also boasts a 24/7 news streaming network – known as an over-the-top (OTT) channel because it is broadcast over the internet and bypasses traditional TV platforms – aimed at young businesspeople under its Quicktake brand.

Until Monday, Quicktake was solely an outlet that produced video news for social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. It was launched in December 2017 under the name TicToc before a rebrand to Quicktake (prompted in part by the rise of Chinese social media giant TikTok).

Smith, who was president of Atlantic Media before joining Bloomberg Media in 2013, says Quicktake grew to attract 50m unique users and 150m average monthly video views.

“We were thrilled with that start but we saw a big opportunity to evolve the Quicktake digital video offering into a streaming OTT digital video offering,” he says. “And so we built out an additional team on top of the social video team… including a sizeable team doing long-form and medium-form video storytelling.” Quicktake has about 100 dedicated employees, most of whom work on the editorial side of the operation.

Quicktake’s network launched on Monday 9 November, with 10.5 hours of programming featuring ten original series and four live daily news shows. The channel aims to cover business, technology, culture, society, personal finance, politics, climate and the business of sports, food, travel and entertainment.

The network – which has launched with American Express and AT&T Business as founding sponsors – is available through a Bloomberg app on Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV and Amazon Fire TV.

Because it is a 24/7 news network, Quicktake is in direct competition with Bloomberg TV. But Smith expects the new channel – which is “designed to have a broader editorial lens on the world of business” than Bloomberg TV – to entice a new type of viewer. 

Quicktake, he says, will be aiming to attract the “next generation” of business leaders who are ready to “cut the cord” on traditional media consumption.

“They’re no longer consuming, streaming video via cable or satellite distribution,” he says. “They’re largely consuming it through their phones, their laptops, their iPads, or their connected TVs.

“Obviously Bloomberg is available in full-form via all of our digital platforms. But that is not the case for CNBC, for instance. It’s not the case for CNN, or other more legacy news channels that are very tied down by their traditional cable and satellite transmission fee relationships.

“That presents a big, big opportunity for us to enter into that market and provide an ad-supported offering in these new environments.”

Smith also spies another opportunity presented to Bloomberg by the Covid-19 crisis.

“The editorial direction of Quicktake in many ways can be tied to this idea of explaining and decrypting this post-Covid business world,” he says.

“Everything since March is totally different – businesses have changed, industries have changed, media consumption has changed, the way we work has changed, the way we live has changed, the way we invest has changed, the way we socialise has changed.

“Bloomberg Quicktake is going to jump into that white space and provide a streaming business video brand that’s going to chronicle all the stories of this changing world.”

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