Weather Channel steers clear of current wireless-services frenzy

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The Weather Channel has jumped on new media lightning-quick.

Its 24-hour cable network, founded in 1982, is seen in some 88 million U.S. households. Its decade-old Web site has 25 million unique users per month and is ranked No. 10 by Nielsen/NetRatings. By 1998, the channel had wireless applications for Palm and other personal digital organizers and by 1999 was delivering content over mobile phones. It has a radio network, newspaper services, broadband and interactive TV applications and wireless weather products available on phones and personal digital assistants.

So it's a logical candidate to think about starting its own MVNO, right? Think again.

"We learned our lesson in the dot-bomb," said Louis Gump, VP-mobile for the privately held company looking to monetize the mobile phone as a medium. "Our business produces weather and related content-not wireless services." While some media companies may be well-suited to going it in the wireless business, Mr. Gump says the Weather Channel is not among them.

Instead, the Weather Channel is sticking with WAP, short for Wireless Application Protocol, a way consumers can access the Internet from wireless phones. Mobile phones capable of going on the Web usually start at a WAP deck, a menu with a list of topics such as news, sports or weather. Like the cable TV model, premium offerings also are available. For example, for $3.99 a month, mobile phone users can access a premium Weather Channel offering of current Doppler Radar images in motion for U.S. locations.

The Weather Channel plans to offer its content to reach wireless customers in one of two ways: for a subscription fee or with advertising support. Or else, "we will pull it down," said Mr. Gump. "We won't offer a service that will not justify itself."

Mr. Gump predicts advertising will sweep through the mobile marketplace like a tornado. In addition to consumer subscriptions, there's money to be made from advertising on its mobile phone content, he said. "We think there is an excellent advertising opportunity in certain wireless Web sites," said Mr. Gump. Some marketers, he said, have approached him saying "whatever you have in wireless, we want it."

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