Five Questions for Debora J. Wilson


Hurricane Katrina not only changed the face of and faces of the Gulf Coast after it hit New Orleans and environs at the end of August 2005. It changed the face and faces of television coverage of storms and severe weather events. Multichannel News editor in chief Tom Steinert-Threlkeld sat down with The Weather Channel president Debora J. Wilson shortly after the second anniversary of the disaster to discuss the effects.

MCN: There hasn’t been a storm of the size and impact of Katrina in the past two hurricane seasons. For The Weather Channel, is that a good thing?

DW: Well, it’s a mixed thing because yes, we love the ratings that a hurricane will bring us; we don’t love the hurricane, but we love the ratings that a hurricane will bring you. But it’s actually a good thing in an unobvious way, and that is, no organization should live by something that is not predictable and so, it has allowed us to build our organization to be strong and live on the ratings and the revenue that comes from an environment that makes us stronger, actually.

MCN: What did you learn from Katrina and how did you apply it?

DW: I’m sure there were 1,000 small, executional things. But [what] got interesting the last time around was how we could interplay the Web site with the television network and make that truly that circular equation that everybody wants to have with their contact [with a programmer]. [Now] they start posting their social-network content, their user-generated content on So we completely changed the way that interacts during that kind of thing, and then also the television network, and making that experience sort of circular.

Plus, again, it was a million executional things.

MCN: You also started to program into a new content arena, climatology. You made Dr. Heidi Cullen the host of The Climate Code.

DW: We began to really focus telling our story about that and telling the science of it and how climate and the weather is very interconnected.

We have put several new shows on air, sort of replacing the Day in a Storm story series that we had. The most recent is Epic Conditions, which is a Warner Miller-filmed series that [deals with] how extreme weather hits extreme sports. First quarter [of 2008], we’ll put on a series called When Weather Makes History, which is culling out of history fascinating juncture points where weather really made a difference to the outcome of what occurred in history.

So fascinating things there.

MCN: You’re combining weather with sports online as well.

DW: We closed on the acquisition of Weather Bonk, which is using maps as its base navigational layer and then layering onto it weather conditions.

MCN: What does that do for you?

DW: Well, what it does for us is it gives us a head start on the creation of content that is more like where we want to take The idea is to infuse with more map-based and user-generated content that goes beyond weather but into outdoor activities, and then also to build out sites that are related to but separate from that relate to those activities. [Weather Bonk] already has one in the category of skiing and one in the category of golf.

That’s something that we’ve been thinking about for a while.