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For the Weather Co., Sandy Is Opportunity

As Eyes Turn Toward Cable Net, It Springs Into Action to Help Viewers, Advertisers During the Storm

By Published on . 1

Hurricane Sandy was Weather Channel's Super Bowl.

The storm that shut down the Northeast opened up opportunities for the network -- and it couldn't have come at a better time. It has struggled with ratings and last month laid off 75 people, or 7% of its workforce.

David Kenny, Weather Co. CEO, said marketers who bought during the upfront got priority.
David Kenny, Weather Co. CEO, said marketers who bought during the upfront got priority.

The Weather Co. (a name recently adopted to emphasize its digital presence) reported that more than 2 million viewers tuned in to its 24-hour cable network last Monday and that it had received 300 million page views on Weather.com, 110 million mobile-app page views and 9.6 million live streams.

Along with those viewers came advertisers. Home-improvement retailers and generator manufacturers were running on the network long before the storm made landfall late on Oct. 29.

In the 48 hours before Sandy, when it became clear the hurricane would be severe, Weather Channel's sales team pulled out the storm playbook, said Curt Hecht, chief global revenue officer. While some marketers reached out to the channel in anticipation of the impending eyeballs, Weather's sales reps also sprang into action, calling marketers who traditionally want a presence amid a storm. The usual suspects included insurance companies, retailers and those who supply power, like battery makers. Mr. Hecht said there was also demand from movie studios and some political marketers looking to connect with viewers who turned away from entertainment pro- grams to watch storm news.

Marketers who bought during the upfront took priority over the scatter advertisers, said CEO David Kenny. "They came in not knowing what the weather will bring and they benefited," he said.

Weather declined to comment on how much scatter it had available heading into the storm, but Mr. Kenny noted that Weather is mindful of its ad load and reduced commercial time at critical points in the coverage. While Weather had more ratings points available than most of the market, he said it didn't look to dramatically raise rates.

Though Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and local broadcasters went wall-to-wall with storm-related news, Weather ranked No. 1 among cable news networks in total viewers from 3 a.m. Sunday to 3 a.m. Monday, with 2.03 million viewers.

Even so, the ratings increase might not do much to buoy Weather's ad revenue, said Derek Baine, analyst at SNL Kagan. From January through September, ratings for the network were down 18.5%, and even with the ratings boost, Mr. Baine expects Weather's ad revenue to end the year in negative territory. He did note that Weather.com is doing better than the core TV channel.

"It's about weather first, not any one particular screen," said Mr. Hecht. "Marketers come to us because they want to be connected to the weather on whatever device [the content is ] being consumed."

During Sandy, for example, the network streamed its live TV coverage on YouTube for the first time. Its feed was also available for free on its own website.

"The storm has the potential to impact 50 million Americans and is being watched around the world; we need to be on every platform," Mr. Kenny said. "Many will lose power. ... We need to keep them connected."

TV commercials did not run in Weather.com's stream, but State Farm sponsored a banner during commercial breaks. According to GeoSurf Plus , an online-media advertising-software firm, Weather.com had 37 advertisers running ads in the three days of the storm, up 68% from the few days before Sandy. The site hosted 56 different ad executions and 11 of the 37 campaigns were new.

Digital-advertising revenue makes up about 45% of Weather's ad sales. In the short term, executives don't foresee digital overtaking TV, but if mobile continues on its current growth trajectory, that could change.

In the aftermath of Sandy, Weather's challenge becomes keeping those viewers coming back post- storm. Already under way is a revamp of its pro- gramming away from prime-time reality and entertainment programming only loosely tied to weather to shows that focus more on the science behind the weather. "There's a place for reality and 'infotainment,' but we need to stay true to our brand," Mr. Kenny said.

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