Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
Last July, a group called the Coalition for Competition in Media wrote a letter to two key House subcommittee chairs on Capitol Hill, pleading for help in stopping the then-pending $30 billion megamerger of Comcast and NBC Universal. The group identified itself as “a coalition of public interest organizations, unions, small and minority media companies and independent programmers,” and said the merger was “fundamentally threatening to the public interest.” That may well have been a sound contention, and any reader might have thought the letter—part of an extensive PR and lobbying campaign—was distributed by a grassroots consumer organization. The letter was signed by the members of the coalition, including the media conglomerate Bloomberg LP. What the letter did not say is that Bloomberg LP was the driving force behind the PR campaign, and the Coalition for Competition in Media was conceived, funded and staffed by lobbyists for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $7 billion-per-year media company.
At the same time that Bloomberg, the politician, seeks a stage larger than City Hall—helping, for example, to found the political group “No Labels” late last year, and imploring national Democrats and Republicans to put aside party politics—his business empire continues to expand aggressively as well. Though Bloomberg doesn’t run the day-to-day affairs of Bloomberg LP, he still owns almost all the shares, handpicks the firm’s managers, talks with them as much as he feels he needs to, and therefore imposes his own will on the firm when he likes. (New York’s ineffectual Conflicts of Interest Board limited but never fully defined the mayor’s role at the company he founded: the board allows him to “maintain the type of involvement that he believes is consistent with his being the majority shareholder.”) A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg declined to comment for this article.
Given Bloomberg’s push for a national platform, any intersections between his corporation’s interests and the government warrant scrutiny. And Bloomberg LP runs an effective and sophisticated lobbying shop to promote the firm’s interests with federal agencies and Congress. It’s striking how, in a fully synergistic Bloomberg style, a news organization, a financial information company and a team of lobbyists often seem to be working in smooth concert.
This process was on vivid display as Bloomberg LP faced the prospect of the Comcast-NBC merger. A postmortem of the company’s vigorous efforts to protect its interests in response to that challenge reveals the ease with which the Bloomberg empire navigates and manipulates Washington.
From the beginning, Bloomberg executives saw potential problems as well as exceptional opportunities in the Comcast-NBC deal, a massive merger of a huge cable and Internet company with a TV network, which sought Federal Communications Commission approval. To understand the stakes for Bloomberg LP in this deal requires a quick behind-the-scenes glimpse at the company and how it functions.
Almost all of Bloomberg LP’s $7 billion yearly revenue still comes from the Bloomberg terminals—the desktop software with floods of financial data that is ubiquitous in Wall Street firms, despite its $20,000-a-year price tag. “Eight-seven percent of the company’s revenue is [Bloomberg] terminal revenue,” says Douglas Taylor, who follows the company and the financial data industry for Burton Taylor International Consulting.
But increasingly, the company has been extending its journalism enterprises. “There is an aggressive expansion going on in the consumer side of the Bloomberg operation,” according to Andrew Schwartzman, senior vice president of the Media Access Project. Consider the breadth of the Bloomberg journalism empire: the company bought BusinessWeek in 2009 as the magazine was losing money, and has transformed it into Bloomberg Businessweek. That comes in addition to the high-end glossy monthly business magazine Bloomberg Markets. At the same time, the company produces Bloomberg Radio on XM, Sirius and WBBR. It also distributes Bloomberg News as a wire service with local and national content on its website. Recently, the company hired ex–New York Times editor David Shipley and ex–State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin to oversee a new operation: Bloomberg View, where Michael Bloomberg’s political, philosophical and business opinions will be distilled in editorials that can be distributed across all his news platforms.