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Time to swing for the fences

“We’ll see — and support and applaud — more media companies investing in innovation-based growth and taking far bigger risks on a new path towards financial success.”

My prediction (and sincere hope) is that 2019 will be the year content publishers finally realize that true, sustained growth isn’t going to come from incremental improvements in this increasingly difficult environment, but from big, bold innovation — what Clayton Christensen would call disruptive innovation. My prognostication? More media companies will invest substantial time, entrepreneurial talent and risk capital necessary to discover new pools of money, acquire new technology, launch new business models, and develop radical new products.

To be clear, it’s still critically important for the industry to continuously improve its existing products and services, but that type of sustaining innovation will not solve the media industry’s existential crisis. 2019 is time to swing for the fences.

The fence-swinging has already begun, in fact. In 2018 Bloomberg Media’s talented global team launched four new products and services:

  1. TicToc — a global social news network for the next generation of leaders
  2. New Economy Forum — “a new community for the new economy,” convening the world’s corporate and government leaders to tackle the world’s most pressing issues
  3. Digital subscription business — consumer subscriptions for Bloomberg.com and our app
  4. Strategic marketing services — a transformation of our commercial model to expand beyond advertising into advising clients on marketing strategies

Aside from the paywall, which is a sustaining (if not overdue) innovation, the other three launches were disruptive, aimed at dislodging incumbents and creating completely new businesses. The outcome? Almost 20 percent growth in 2018 revenue driven largely by these four new initiatives. Not so bad for one of the largest business media players in the world; one that also operates several traditional platforms where the economic headwinds are strong.

While it’s true that Bloomberg LP has a successful data and information business, and therefore Bloomberg Media is not under the same financial pressure as others in the industry, all four of these new launches required an incremental investment, but paid for themselves in year one, by design. As a result, we invested in new talent and products and improved the profit and loss statement.

Of course we’re certainly not the only vanguard driving this trend. See The New York Times expanding into recipe subscriptions and e-commerce, Gimlet and Panoply driving business growth into digital audio, Axios rethinking the editorial/sponsorship model, Pluto TV reimagining free ad-supported “TV” in an OTT age, or Bleacher Report finding new audiences with The Drop Up — to name just a few.

What these companies share is their insight that radical disruptive innovation leads to revenue growth. What others are hopefully seeing is the failure of incremental thinking to improve the financial situation.

Here’s to 2019, a year I predict that we’ll see — and support and applaud — more media companies investing in innovation-based growth and taking far bigger risks on a new path towards financial success.

M. Scott Havens is the global head of digital and media distribution for Bloomberg Media.

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