Cable Mainstay Becomes a Digital Giant

Road to the Upfront: Weather Channel

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The Player: The Weather Channel
The Date: March 13, 2008
The Venue: Espace, New York
Key Execs: Debora Wilson, president, Weather Channel Cos.; Paul Iaffaldano, exec VP-general manager, Weather Channel Media Solutions; Chris Raleigh, senior VP and general sales manager, Weather Channel Media Solutions
The Food: A tasty mix of Thai and Indian, presented on a suspended table that hung from a chain on the ceiling and was covered in fake grass. Three points for presentation, Weather Channel.
The Swag: Unless we missed it, none -- which is too bad because they give out the best umbrellas!
The Band: Guests were treated to a special concert from Gnarls Barkley, the "Crazy" band that played a half-hour set in advance of its second album, "The Odd Couple," out later this month.
The Ratings Game: The Weather Channel isn't known for its ratings strength, as most viewers tune in for the local forecast and tune out moments later. As a result, the network will begin selling on an aggregate rating of its "Local on the 8s" forecast. So instead of getting a smaller percentage of viewers during one daypart, advertisers can get a larger cumulative audience by buying all 24 of a day's forecasts.
Gnarls Barkley's Cee Lo performs at the Weather Channel Upfront event.
Gnarls Barkley's Cee Lo performs at the Weather Channel Upfront event. Credit: AP/The Weather Channel
Last Year's Take: The network grossed $180 million in ad revenue in 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
The Digital Play: is one of the top 20 sites on the web, regularly garnering 34 million unique visits a month, according to comScore. And its mobile site is one of the top five most-trafficked in the U.S., averaging 6 million visits a month, according to Telephia.
The Analyst's Take: Thomas Eagan, an Oppenheimer analyst, told Ad Age in January amid news that Weather Channel's parent company, Landmark Communications, would be selling off the network: "With the proliferation of platforms ... any content company with a strong brand becomes that much more powerful."

How's the upfront forecast for a unique network like the Weather Channel? Sunny, with a few potential clouds on the horizon.

The cable network is not known for its viewers tuning in for a long length of time, but online its reach is unrivaled by any TV brand. That's why Paul Iaffaldano, exec VP-general manager, Weather Channel Media Solutions, will plug the network's overall reach in this upfront, backed by Nielsen data. The combined reach of the Weather Channel and put its audience at more than 119 million unique consumers a month, besting CNN and (118 million) and Fox News / (95 million).

"We have such an incredibly large online and mobile properties, and it affords us to offer much larger and more organized multiplatform packages to customers," Mr. Iaffaldano said, adding that he expects 50% of upfront revenue to come from multiplatform deals.

The ad models are becoming more attractive, too. "What we do is integrate the customer's brand into the message we give consumers, and it makes it a lot more powerful." That will also include a more robust on-air offering, via its tentpole programming, "Local on the 8s." For the first time this year, the network will begin selling the local forecast on an aggregate rating of its 24 daily broadcasts, so an advertiser can buy a larger cumulative audience throughout the day as opposed to smaller dayparts. Mr. Iaffaldano considers the TV model in online terms, explaining how an advertiser can offer a consistent ad message to viewers, much as it does on the web.

"The 'Local on the 8s' product is basically the same forecast that's shown individually in the market all day long. If you think about it, very few people watch the same 'Local on the 8s' forecast three times a day. You may watch it a second time, just to make sure you got it all. It's the TV version of a home-page takeover. Normally you think about exporting TV products into the online world, and that's exactly what we're doing with the web here."
Chris Raleigh
Chris Raleigh

The network has so many research touchpoints this year that Chris Raleigh, its new head of ad sales, joked at last night's presentation: "I came to the Weather Channel with so many studies, I ought to be called the head of research instead of the head of sales." Mr. Raleigh, who was previously at GSN, said engagement will also play a major part in deals this year. "Our viewer is in remember mode. People come to us to plan and prepare. They're looking to us to remember that information and remember commercials."

Though the upfront forecast is optimistic, one major cloud still looms for the company. After parent company Landmark Communications announced its sale in January, Weather Channel has been on the block with a rumored $5 billion price tag. That's not too much to ask, said Derek Baine, cable analyst for SNL Kagan, given the attractiveness of in particular to a major media company.

"You got buyers just looking for stuff that's dirt cheap that they can hopefully make a lot of money off of," he told Ad Age in January. News Corp., NBC Universal and CBS Corp. have all been rumored to be interested in the company. Why, just yesterday CBS President-CEO Les Moonves said at the McGraw Hill Media Summit in New York, "We're in a very good position financially to do some things. ... We look at absolutely everything."
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