Bloomberg launched a fresh, new Bloomberg Business Tuesday night, to both acclaim and confusion. Change has long been afoot lately at Bloomberg Media, which hired Justin B. Smith away from Atlantic Media in 2013 and Joshua Topolsky away from The Verge last July to help reconfigure the company’s digital presence. The new look — inspired in part by the boldness of Bloomberg Businessweek, the print magazine the company bought in 2009 — is fresh, colorful, and not a little bit dizzying.
In a piece for VentureBeat called “Bloomberg Business’ new site design is beautifully bizarre — and it’s begging for haters,” Harrison Weber writes that the design “pulls you in as much as it spits in your eye. Yet, for some reason, I want more.” This sentiment was, meaningfully, echoed on Twitter.
I feel like the new http://t.co/lhvPgYvgcD is screaming at me but I don't mind
— Steven Perlberg (@perlberg) January 28, 2015
The new bloomberg website looks insane and i like it http://t.co/iit64svcaY
— Adam Taylor (@mradamtaylor) January 28, 2015
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) January 28, 2015
Did Topolsky set out to build a digital that both horrified and intrigued? With simplicity — think Quartz — dominating thinking about business news design, it makes sense that Bloomberg would go for a splash. But as this chart of Bloomberg homepages over the last five years shows, the new look is quite a deviation for the typically more sober finance news company. Topolsky, who says he expected a surprised reaction to the launch, isn’t worried.
“I’ve seen some people who are weirded out by it,” he says. “I think some of the best news and web design is a little bit uncomfortable when you first see it.” (The Verge’s brash use of color was similarly divisive at launch.)
While the color-washed images and scroll-to-reveal headlines are eye-catching (and sometimes a little buggy), Topolsky emphasized that there’s more happening here than just surface-level change. Those who noticed that both businessweek.com and bloombergbusiness.com redirect to the new Bloomberg homepage will have guessed that much of the new approach is about recentering the Bloomberg media brand. (Bloomberg reportedly loses hundreds of millions a year on its media businesses; its terminal business is the big moneymaker.) The company is made up of many moving parts — there’s the original Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg Markets (for terminal subscribers), Bloomberg Pursuits (a luxury print magazine), plus radio and TV. Says Topolsky: “The trick is, how do you pull them together and make it feel natural?”
Behind the scenes, that means consolidating newsroom staff from Businessweek and Bloomberg News into a single team. On the website, that means capturing some of the zany sensibility and visual language that Businessweek under Josh Tyrangiel has become known for — some of Topolsky’s favorite covers in recent memory are below — and applying it to Bloomberg’s broader digital identity.
— Josh (@Tyrangiel) January 22, 2015
— ClassicFrontPages (@CFPages) September 9, 2013
That said, the magazine will retain some of its independence. “Businessweek is going to keep being Businessweek,” Topolsky says.
Another public-facing change loyal readers are sure to notice: Bloomberg killed its comments section. Lots of media companies, from Recode to Reuters, have done this lately, which Topolsky said made him more confident in the decision. He says both writers and editors are more comfortable engaging with readers on external social platforms, where they’re likely to reach a more representative percentage of the audience.
“I’ve looked at the analytics on the commenting community versus overall audience. You’re really talking about less than one percent of the overall audience that’s engaged in commenting, even if it looks like a very active community,” he says. “In the grand scheme of the audience, it doesn’t represent the readership.”
Nothing about the new Bloomberg is set in stone; Topolsky says the entire process is iterative, and that includes the comments. The digital team will be monitoring reader behavior across desktop and mobile to see how they’re reacting to and interacting with the new site. For example, on launch day, they experimented with header height so see what readers like better. On mobile, where they’re working to “find the right balance between design and imagery and text,” Topolsky plans to experiment with different formats — more text versus more color versus a grid — to figure out what draws readers in.
— Joshua Benton (@jbenton) January 28, 2015
Another new Bloomberg Business feature most readers will notice is a small Bloomberg TV video player in the top navigation bar. On article pages, that locks to the top of your screen when scrolling, meaning the player is visible no matter where the user is reading.
— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) January 28, 2015
Video is a major area investment for Bloomberg, which broke streaming records in October and comes in second in comScore’s ranking of business and finance video. Says Topolsky of media, “If digital video isn’t core to what you’re doing, that’s crazy to me.” Bloomberg has long made live content from its television channel available online, but Topolsky says foregrounding that fact on the site should help capture new audience. “We wanted to make sure people knew there was a way to jump in, particularly around breaking news,” he says.
Of course, Bloomberg Business is also borrowing features from elsewhere. For example, the site makes use of the infinite scroll on article pages, first popularized in the business news world by Quartz. The idea, of course, is that by slipping a new story in at the end of the first one, publishers can increase time on site.
— Christopher Mims (@mims) January 28, 2015
On Bloomberg Business, the new article that appears at the end of the article a user is reading is served by a recommendation algorithm. It’s not personalized yet; the algorithm bases its recommendation based on what content is popular on the site with other users. Topolsky calls the feature “the transporter,” because its meant to introduce readers to new sections and help move them around the site.
While scrolling content recommendations are meant to capture audience from social, there’s also a lot of focus on the Bloomberg Business homepage. The page is dynamic, with lots of little pieces, not all of which gel. For example, this free floating Tiger Woods pull quote:
To keep the many images, boxes, side rails, section headers, and grids of the homepage in order, Topolsky says Bloomberg engineers built a special authorship platform that gives producers flexibility, as well as the ability to lock ads to improve viewability. “It seems like a daunting amount of work, but it’s not, because of the power of the tools we have,” Topolsky says.
As the announcement press release makes clear, the new Bloomberg Business is also intended to increase digital ad revenue. A great way to do that is to offer unique ad placements, which publishers can charge more for as they help clients create custom content. At Bloomberg Business, these new placements together are called Bloomberg Spectrum. Like many media companies, Topolsky says Bloomberg is growing its in-house marketing team to execute Spectrum. Programs like this augment revenue from programmatic ad sales, which Digiday reports Bloomberg outsources to Taboola and AdChoice.Topolsky says the Bloomberg Business launch doesn’t represent a pivot toward consumer news for Bloomberg — at least not exactly. “The terminal customer is the core of what Bloomberg is as a company that is, just frankly, the revenue driver of this company,” Topolsky says. Being seduced by the possibility of the broader web and losing sight of that core value can be risky for news networks; consider the tale of ill-fated Reuters Next. But if there is a general audience for business news — and Topolsky certainly thinks there is — the new Bloomberg Business aims to have the visual and rhetorical oomph to reach them.
“The best stories resonate with a lot of people, not just business news consumers,” he says. “There’s a bigger audience out on the web that we think we can capture.”