As CTO and head of Engineering for Bloomberg Media, Eric Schvimmer leads the engineers that support the business and editorial teams that run the company’s consumer-facing digital properties, Bloomberg.com, and other channels. These properties reach more than 62 million unique users each month. Over the past few years, he’s overseen major shifts in technology such as live video streaming, and product launches including Bloomberg’s consumer mobile and Apple TV apps, which have changed the way consumers select, access and consume media content.
At the Content Delivery Summit 2017 in New York City later today, he will present Bloomberg’s multi-provider video strategy. Ahead of the conference, we spoke with Eric about the challenges of adapting to new and changing technologies and the future of video delivery and consumption, among other topics.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your role at Bloomberg?
Primarily, my job is to support the goals of the media business from a technology perspective. First and foremost, we want to enlighten the world about our products, each of which express unique and unbiased content to the public and help the ecosystem of our core product: The Bloomberg Terminal. Bloomberg has an influential group of 325,000 customers – these are some of the most powerful people and companies around the world – in business, finance, government, policy or philanthropy – but we want more. My goal is to get us out there to build mass scale and awareness of news-breaking comments and provide platforms for our products. Bloomberg stands for a level of technological innovation and quality that sets us apart from others, so we don’t want to just put out content and pixels. We also want to provide unique solutions and a better experience that differentiates our products.
What are some of the most significant innovations you’ve been a part of?
We don’t play with technology for technology’s sake. We solve business needs. I’m proud that one of our core missions is to trial new technologies for Engineering. Some examples include our use of Node.js when we re-launched Bloomberg.com two years ago, using React Native in our recently revamped consumer mobile application and leveraging WebSockets for our live blog platform that delivered real-time updates on election night in 2016. We also developed our own HTML5-based player using the Video.js open source platform, trialing its use and defining the processes for using the public cloud to host video applications.
One of our biggest innovations, especially lately, is the overwhelming advance of our streaming video from a niche product to a major player in the industry. In terms of quality, flexibility and usability, we’re a leader in this space. I’m particularly proud of our team and how – over a period of three years – we systematically put in place the platform we have today that allows us to be nimble in this quickly evolving space.
The consumer mobile app was a big step forward. What were the challenges you faced developing this product?
We realized that mobile app development was woefully inefficient using only native app tools, which required different iOS and Android teams working in parallel using the same specs. That didn’t make sense. After some experimentation, we switched to React Native, a mobile application framework developed by Facebook. Once we saw the results, it was a no-brainer from a technology development standpoint. We came up with an amazing product, much more quickly than before, and the rest is history.
How difficult was the large-scale switchover from HTTP to HTTPS?
It was not only daunting, but also took much longer than the consumer mobile app because we had to align all the different parts of the ecosystem. At first, content networks didn’t support HTTPS and neither did the advertising technology. But after a while, we saw momentum in the space, with better support from video content providers and Google’s move to HTTPS. The transition was done step by step, but we finally got there late last year – it was a real team effort among all departments.
As you said, video streaming has really taken off. Some have gone so far as to call it a revolution. Do you think that revolution is over?
The first stage is over, but there are many more acts to follow. What we’ve just gone through is the initial shift in the way content is consumed – from linear to digital. Now it’s moving to on-demand. There’s no more ‘Must See TV’ on Thursday night anymore. Instead, it’s ‘must-see TV’ when and where you want it. No more dictating to the viewer; the viewer now decides what they want to see and when. As a result, platforms are proliferating on desktop and mobile – and we’ve even developed a new Apple TV app. But we still have an opportunity to be smart about creating platforms and digital channels on the fly and/or using machine learning to make viewing suggestions based on the video consumption habits of global business leaders.
What can be streamed on Bloomberg now? And what might we see in the future?
Everything is streaming. For example, if you’re watching Bloomberg Television, you can choose to watch the stream of our channel in Asia, and even the Asian Event channel – anything you want, either linear or on digital properties. We’ve also developed ways to share metadata that provides context about what you’re watching and what people are saying. Much like we did in the recently updated Apple TV app, if one of our Bloomberg TV hosts starts talking about, say, IBM, you will see data and information on the screen about IBM, its stock price, its executives and more. It’s an exciting space, but the challenge is making the information flow from one system to another and ensuring real-time interaction between the systems. We are fortunate that we have great talent within both Engineering and Broadcast Engineering here at Bloomberg. This “lethal” combination has allowed us to raise the bar and jump from followers to leaders in the online video space.
Your talk at the conference outlines Bloomberg’s experience with streaming video. What’s your message to participants?
If you are doing it on a large scale, use multiple vendors and always be vendor-neutral. There are tough technical challenges within that, so watch out for hidden costs, ruthlessly manage complexity and make sure you have the right tools and metrics in place. Finally, you have to realize that, like everything that relates to technology, this won’t be a short journey.
Describe what you think the video viewing experience will be on Bloomberg.com in five years.
The way people are consuming content continues to evolve. As such, video consumption will be on any number of devices, including your mobile device, your car dashboard (no worries, the car will drive itself by then) or even through your glasses or contact lenses. 5G wireless will enable many applications we have yet to think of and data will be incorporated seamlessly into the video stream. You’ll receive targeted suggestions and recommendations about what to watch. I also don’t think you’ll be using a keyboard anymore. Instead, you’ll be relying on voice recognition as the interface – that is surely going to happen.