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Bloomberg TV's iPad app goes against the grain

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A few weeks ago, business news conglomerate Bloomberg LP quietly launched a service that allows iPad owners to watch its Bloomberg TV cable channel live on the tablet device.

Though that is hardly an earth-shattering development — several cable networks have similar apps for tablet devices or make their channels available live online — Bloomberg is taking a radically different approach. Unlike other networks, which require that those who want to watch their programming already be subscribers to a multichannel video program distributor (that's industry-speak for a cable or satellite operator), Bloomberg makes no such requirement.

That move flies in the face of standard operating procedure in the media industry and likely won't win Bloomberg many friends among the big cable and satellite companies that carry the channel. That's because distributors don't like programmers who give their subscribers any incentive to cut the cord.

According to SNL Kagan, Bloomberg charges distributors a monthly license fee of seven cents per subscriber to carry the channel. That may not sound like much money, but Bloomberg is in 70 million homes so those pennies add up to millions of dollars.

Although Bloomberg TV is widely distributed, it is still at a ratings disadvantage compared with its chief rival CNBC. This move may win it some points with its core followers and with those who feel that any information made available online (including newspapers) should be free even if the same content is sold on other platforms such as television and print.

"Bloomberg TV is a global network — our Bloomberg TV+ app is part of our strategy to increase awareness of our product and drive viewers around the world to Bloomberg Television on cable and satellite," a Bloomberg spokeswoman said.

Bloomberg's decision to give its channel away on a potentially competing platform to cable and satellite also comes at a time when it is in an ugly fight at the Federal Communications Commission with Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator and owner of CNBC.

At issue is where Comcast places Bloomberg on its cable systems in relation to what channel CNBC is on. Bloomberg has argued that the conditions that the FCC put on Comcast in return for approval of its merger with NBCUniversal require the cable company to place its channel in the same neighborhood as CNBC.

Comcast has argued that is not the case and that if it did what Bloomberg wanted then "millions of customers will be subject to disruption and confusion required by massive channel realignments across the country, all to benefit an already-thriving, $30-billion media company."

The Bloomberg iPad app could become part of the debate with Comcast, which may argue to the FCC that a channel that is giving itself away to consumers with iPads certainly doesn't need special treatment from the government.

At the same time, Bloomberg might fire back that its struggles to get the same treatment business ratings champ CNBC gets from distributors has led it to give its service away.

— Joe Flint

RELATED:

Bloomberg TV plays politics

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Comcast and Bloomberg fighting again

Photo: A screen grab of Bloomberg's iPad app. Credit: Bloomberg.

 
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