Don’t do it, Mr. Mayor!Posted: December 11, 2012
On a typical day, I’m sure Michael Bloomberg encounters plenty of people with opinions about how he should spend his money. Even more so following yesterday’s scoop by the New York Times, which reported that Bloomberg might buy the Financial Times.
For what it’s worth, I’d side with the people who think he should pass on this one, considering the declining popularity of print. Even more to the point, every print-based business-news organization like the FT or my ex-employer Dow Jones essentially needs to become more like Bloomberg LP to survive these days. If you’ve already found one of the holy grails of the media industry — a lucrative revenue stream that’s not based on ads or subscriptions to news content — why acquire a competitor who hasn’t, with an organizational culture that may not take well to the changes you’ll inevitably need to make, and so on?
To put it a different way: When the Model T started selling well, Henry Ford didn’t go out and acquire a buggy manufacturer, did he?
The NYT story mentions LinkedIn as a company that some in Bloomberg’s inner circle think might be a better acquisition. I’d add another candidate that no one seems to be mentioning — Research in Motion.
Of course, RIM famously has a lot of problems of its own and would certainly be a turnaround project for Bloomberg. But here’s why it might work:
The two companies’ user bases overlap very nicely. If you could integrate Bloomberg data and news services more tightly into Blackberry handhelds, those devices would get new life as a must-have for financial-industry types.
Bloomberg has experience integrating data and hardware closely. That’s what they originally did with terminals on traders’ desktops. In essence, they have a chance to do the same now in traders’ pockets. Even after a few years of exploding mobile usage, this opportunity is still sitting out there unanswered because…
Android and Apple’s iOS don’t integrate well with Wall Street’s data networks. Of course, the main knock on RIM is that they’re getting their butts kicked by the two 800-pound gorillas of the mobile market, with no clear end in sight. But that’s assuming all these companies are competing for the average Joe consumer. Enterprise users in general — and Wall Street users in particular — are a little different.
The main rub is that a lot of the key services that finance pros use in a typical work day run on proprietary data networks, not the Worldwide Web that the average Joe uses. The current Bloomberg terminals are a great example of one of these proprietary networks, as are the trading engines at the major stock exchanges, as are some of the trading systems that big brokerages have set up for their staff and customers.
Apple and Google have never really integrated their products well with these niche services. This is why, for instance, traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, who have been using specialized tablets for years, have never switched to iPads en masse.
Maybe the Silicon Valley types have simply overlooked this niche because they’ve been so busy fighting for consumers. Or it could be a matter of not having the right relationships, since integrating with the various financial-industry networks would require some cajoling of senior IT execs at the various banks, exchanges, etc.
Whatever their reason, the point is that Bloomberg clearly does have the expertise, the strategic interest, and the relationships. Those things would give it a fighting chance at reviving a business like RIM, whereas an ink-on-paper publisher like the FT is ultimately a hopeless case no matter how smart you are.