Hopes Two-Hour Block Expands Amount of Time Viewers Spend There

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NEW YORK ( -- The climate’s changing at The Weather Channel. Long known for being the place viewers turn when the weather does, the network hopes to remake itself into an appointment viewing destination by doubling its long-form prime-time programming.

“Full Force Nature” and “It Could Happen Tomorrow” premiere Jan. 15 in the 9 p.m. hour, airing after a pair of half-hour “Storm Stories” episodes. The two-hour block of longer form programming is a way for the channel to expand its base of viewers and increase its length of tune, which is one of the shortest in the cable universe.

At the same time, like any strategy shift, it carries the risk of alienating the core weather watchers who tune in for the live forecast programming.

“It’s a worthwhile experiment,” said Aaron Cohen, exec VP-director of broadcast at Horizon Media. “How do you build from the core base? … You’ve got to put something out there that draws people that advertisers can connect with in a somewhat different way.”

Viewers ready
Wonya Lucas, exec VP-general manager of The Weather Channel, said viewers are ready for more programming from the channel. Focus groups have indicated viewers tune in for three reasons: to see the forecast in preparation for the day, to become inspired to do something based on the weather information and to be awed by weather’s forces.

“It’s a delicate balance between expanding the definition of weather while still being reliable to viewers day to day who have come to expect something of you,” Ms. Lucas said. “But we’re The Weather Channel, not The Weather Forecast Channel.”

Ms. Lucas, who moved into the general manager role in October after heading up strategic marketing, is a former consumer package-goods marketer who logged years at Coca-Cola Co. and Clorox before moving to TV. Like any good package-goods marketer, she did extensive consumer insight research about what The Weather Channel means to consumers.

Consumer shift
“There are no switching costs, but consumer loyalty is as important in TV as packaged goods,” she said. In the past 10 years she’s seen a shift toward a more consumer-centric approach to TV. The channel will let viewers tune into local weather on the 8s -- a habit the network has cultivated -- by squeezing the ongoing programming into the upper right-hand corner so weather information can run in an L-shaped window on the screen.

In 87 million homes, The Weather Channel grew its 18-to-49 viewers 4 percent and its 25-to-54 viewers percent in the past year. It averages a 0.3 household rating. Network management will be watching if the programs increase time spent viewing and will look at audience duplication -- are the people coming to watch the same ones who watch in the morning or other dayparts? Are people coming back weekly?

Ms. Lucas hopes the two new shows will hit viewers’ “awe button,” much as “Storm Stories” has since its launch a few years ago. One episode of “It Could Happen Tomorrow” has already hit too close to home; the pilot, which was shown in April, detailed what would happen if a major hurricane hit New Orleans.

“No one imagined that would happen a few months later,” Ms. Lucas said. The network won’t air the pilot again; instead, the first “It Could Happen Tomorrow” focuses on the potential effects of a New York City hurricane, building off the story of a 1938 hurricane off the coast of Long Island.

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