The Weather Channel celebrated its 30th anniversary last Tuesday with help from New York’s Empire State Building, which
lit its top floors blue honoring the basic-cable powerhouse. David Kenny, chairman and CEO of The Weather Channel Cos.
since January (and formerly president of Akamai), spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas
Umstead about the TWCC and the evolution from linear cable channel to worldwide, multiplatform media company.
MCN: How would
you compare the
TWC brand now to
when it launched 30
David Kenny: At
the time it started,
it was audacious innovation.
think that in 1982
people wanted to
watch weather on
television 24/7 was
very different, but it
was launched with
real entrepreneurs in
this medium called
cable. The company
also was early to go
online with weather.com; the minute it
looked like the Internet
was going to be a
to deliver information,
plans began on
that. The minute that
you could put more information on a mobile
phone, plans began on the mobile app.
The DNA of the company was established
from the beginning around audacious innovation;
to just think that the impossible
MCN: Is it fair to say that the value of The
Weather Channel is as much in the digital
space as it is as a linear channel?
DK: Certainly, a lot of users and a lot of
advertising [go] to the digital side, and
we have leaned into that area better and
stronger than most cable networks, partly
because of our category. On the other hand,
the cable channel remains very important.
Even those who access us digitally also
watch television, and it’s real clear to our
affiliate partners that we are a critical part
of their standard programming lineup.
People expect us on television — it’s part of
the value of cable. So I would say its additive,
as opposed to a substitute. What we’ve seen
is, people consume more weather when we
give them more screens to
MCN: What should we
expect to see from the
DK: Again, I think [the
website] is additive, so
when people move from
the cable channel to use
the website, it’s deeply personal.
We get a billion page
views on weather.com and
95% of those have been
redone to make it easier
to be personal about your
location. It’s also very integrated
with social networks,
so that you can tell
your friends whether you
love your weather or not.
I think it helps begin that
conversation that so many
of us have every day, which
is, “How’s the weather
there?” We’ve made that
very modern by connecting a personal experience
and a social experience through
the new weather.com.
MCN: TWC has added a number of
weather-related reality shows in the past
year. How is that helping to build the TWC
DK: We have a strong sense of our brand,
and what our audience is telling us is that
they come to us to inspire local possibilities,
and they do it in different ways and at different
times. So at the beginning of the day
and during a good chunk of the day, they
use us to plan their day and their weekend.
In the evening, I think people are in a different
mood. There are a couple of hours in
primetime where folks want to have stories.
People really own The Weather Channel
personally and they want stories about people
and how people combat the weather. So
the theme that you see in all of our successful
new series are very much about men
and women who are very clever, smart and
informed about the weather, and as a result
can work with Mother Nature to make sure
she doesn’t foil their plans. Mother Nature
is always a character, but so are the people
in these stories, and the ones that are really
getting strong ratings are those that have
our audiences relating to the characters.
But when we have severe weather, our
brand gets more serious. That’s our first priority.
We are absolutely trusted on those unfortunate
days when people are in danger,
and we’ll stop everything else in a case of a
tornado or hurricane to keep people safe.
MCN: There’s more competition in the
weather marketplace than there was 30
years ago. Are you concerned at all about
the new players in the weather space, both
on the linear and digital side?
DK: I always take competition seriously
— we can take nothing for granted just
because we have market leadership. The
way you stay a market leader for three
decades, and the way we’ll stay a market
leader for four, five and six decades, is to
constantly look at what we’re doing and
saying to ourselves: “If we were starting
over and competing with The Weather
Channel, how would we do it so that we
innovate?” It’s that kind of thinking that
led us to move Stephanie Abrams to New
York so that we can do [live morning programs]
Wake Up With Al and Your Weather
Today with more guests. That led us to
the storytelling programs in the evening.
That led us to relaunch weather.com and
to a relaunch of our mobile apps that
you’ll see in just a few weeks.
I’m not going to follow our competition; I
think it’s important that they follow us. But
for that to happen, we have to give them
something to follow. We’re obsessed with a
more rapid rate of innovation.