Forecast is Breakthrough on Mobile Video

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The Weather Channel has launched an ad-supported, mobile video forecast service aimed at 100 U.S. cities that will work on most mobile-video handsets.

The Weather Channel Interactive worked with a vendor called Vantrix (headed by former ESPN Mobile chief Manish Jha) to create the service, which launched with a pilot program providing 90-second video forecasts for San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.

The service is the first of its kind, the providers said.

Forecasts for the 100 metropolitan areas that will be covered by year's end will be refreshed every half hour, requiring nearly 5,000 new videos every day.

No software downloads are required -- just a multimedia phone with a Web browser.

The Weather Channel Mobile is consistently one of the top five mobile Web sites in the U.S., attracting approximately 6 million unique visitors each month, according to Telephia figures provided by the channel.

The company has its own mobile advertising staff, which will manage the future sales of the available advertising inventory on the new video service.

There are no ads on the service yet. “We want to make sure the product is right before we get ads in there,” VP of mobile Louis Gump said Tuesday. “We probably had ad least one advertiser that wanted to be in there at launch. [But] we just wanted to keep it simple.”

Gump said that even though Weather Channel content is part of the bundled features on many mobile phones, this is a different type of service.

“This, we think, will drive interest in [mobile] video and in turn drive purchases of data plans from carriers,” Gump said.

Some estimates are that 90% of mobile phones in the U.S. today are Web capable, but that only about 30 million people use mobile video regularly -- about 25%-35% of the market. Gump said the number of users probably should be twice as big – 50 to 60 million.

The Weather Channel had the expertise to create 5,000 mobile video clips per day already, but needed Ventrix to provide the expertise to identify different types of phones and make the service work across phone platforms, Gump said.

The forecasts run about a minute and a half in length, including radar images, a local forecast (by Mark Mancuso yesterday afternoon) and a three-day forecast.