Careful segmenting puts Weather on map

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When Steven Schiffman arrived as exec VP-marketing at the Weather Channel in 1999, he found a mature, successful, 20-year-old brand that enjoyed high recall and customer satisfaction in value, trust, reliability and accuracy.

But he also found a network that lacked a "North Star," or long-term strategic vision, he says. "I said we really need to leverage our equity," he recalls.

Tapping his experience as the former VP-strategic marketing with Nascar and senior brand manager for Kraft Foods' Kraft Singles brand, Mr. Schiffman helped develop a "brand standard" that would expand the Atlanta-based network of Landmark Communications, Norfolk, Va. At Kraft, he had helped successfully position cheese as an ingredient in life, Mr. Schiffman recalls. That became his goal for weather.

LENS OF WEATHER

"We look at the world through the lens of weather. We're not going to cover a plane accident, but we'll focus on the weather's influence," Mr. Schiffman says. "It's more than just weather. It's `What does the weather mean to me?' "

The Weather Channel is not just about the weather anymore. Where once its "weather wheel" provided all weather, all the time, the Weather Channel has shifted its offerings. Today, the network still provides national and international weather, with time preserved for local weather drop-ins. But it's also airing weather-related news, features and informational segments, and several morning and prime-time shows designed to add life to weather news.

Thousands of Web sites use the Weather Channel's syndicated content and logo for local weather summaries. The network has fans among the sports world; for instance, it is the official forecaster of the Professional Golfers' Association.

EXPANDS BEYOND CORE

It's not unusual for a mature TV network to expand beyond its traditional core content, says Derek Baine, senior analyst-entertainment and media with Paul Kagan Associates, a Carmel, Calif.-based media consultancy. Consider music channels or even CNN, which moved beyond their namesake all-news offerings and into more vertically related content.

"You've seen over time that networks that have made their name in a certain genre move into different programming areas because you always want to broaden your audience, hook them and get them to come back repeatedly," Mr. Baine says. "With the Weather Channel, you want people going there when there's good weather, too."

Since 2000, the Weather Channel has expanded its lineup. Its current programs and features include several new offerings:

"Atmospheres" is a prime-time, hourlong show that launched in August 2000 featuring national and international weather-related news segments in a "Dateline" style.

Also, "First Outlook," a 2-hour early weekday show, targets business travelers and executives with information on how weather is affecting companies, from travel to crops and overland transport. Another is "Your Weather Today," which follows "First Outlook." Airing until 9 a.m., the show features a traditional morning show format, with discussion and weather, and targets at-home parents.

"Weekend Now" is slated for a May debut. The weekend morning show will appraise outdoor-active viewers of weekend weather.

"Evening Edition" is a prime-time show planned for 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. and scheduled to debut this summer. The show will feature news updates and analysis about the next day's weather and will target 25-to-54 year-olds lifetime learners.

The network is exploring new formats for the 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours, while still providing the viewer-preferred "Local on the 8s" weather summaries every 10 minutes, Mr. Schiffman says. The network will also use more live remotes during weather emergencies like snowstorms and hurricanes, and live in-city shots, he says.

"We're not going to walk away from the maps, but they'll be packaged in a way that will be more relevant," Mr. Schiffman says.

The new programs have grown audience and share, says William Wiehe, exec VP-advertising sales. Since its introduction last year, "Atmospheres" has boosted the time period's audience 6%; "Your Weather Today" grew the audience 8% in ratings, he says. Total ad revenue between 1999 to 2000 was up 19%, Mr. Wiehe says, but he did not cite specific dollars.

Weather.com launched a new Ski Outlook Index this year, displaying snow and ski conditions. Similarly, the cable network and its Web site will debut its new UV Index for summer outdoor activities. For more information, viewers will be steered to the Web site.

LESS TV TIME A RISK

Driving viewers online might result in having the audience spend less time watching weather on their TV sets, Mr. Schiffman admits. But he's anticipating multiple page views for each site visit, and more marketing opportunities. Already, Weather.com ranked in the top 20 in Jupiter Media Metrix's ranking of unique visitors to U.S. sites during February.

Like other networks that have bolstered their cross-platform content delivery, Weather Channel is heading into interactive TV, the hybrid TV-Internet model that will allow viewers to download specific information on local weather or other channel content. Similarly, the network distributes weather information to pagers, personal digital assistants and other wireless devices.

"In the world of convergence and people coming at us from across all different areas, we need to evolve from a utility-based positioning to an identity-based positioning," Mr. Schiffman says.

The strengthened Internet play has led to cross-platform advertising by marketers like Carrier Corp. and Penske Auto Centers, Mr. Wiehe says. In fact, the brand's evolution was driven by two goals: to enhance consumer satisfaction, and to boost advertiser value, he says. The network's highly differentiated programming lineup is delivering more targeted viewer groups than previously.

For example, "First Outlook" has attracted marketers like Cisco Systems, IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., New York Life Insurance Co. and Office Depot that want to reach business travelers.

Two hours later, "Your Weather Today" and its audience of working women and busy moms draws marketers like Dannon Co., St. Petersburg/-Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and Darden Restaurants' Red Lobster.

AFFILIATE CAMPAIGN

The network continues to use its "Live by it" affiliate advertising campaign theme introduced last year, and a new consumer campaign of the same theme that debuted in March, from Red Tettemer Advertising, Narberth, Pa.

By expanding its programming, the Weather Channel has potentially opened its viewership, says Mr. Baine. No longer just for weather enthusiasts, the network now will attract executives and parents concerned about children's understanding of science, he says.

A package-goods marketer at heart, Mr. Schiffman likens Weather Channel's goals to the philosophy of another well-known Atlanta product: Coca-Cola.

"Our strategy is to have Weather Channel-branded content within arm's reach of any consumer, anytime, anyplace," he says.

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