Just like, well, the weather, weather networks and weather coverage are changing rapidly. But the trick, according to two of the top players in the space — The Weather Channel and WeatherNation — is to offer a mix of content that drives viewership and engagement using both traditional linear television content, as well as digital apps and technology that provide forecasts and information that viewers can customize to fit their needs.
“When it comes to television, the most important thing is storm coverage,” The Weather Channel president David Clark said, adding that the channel has had its best February ratings period in five years because of mega-storms in Boston and the prolonged frigid temperatures in the Northeast. “When it comes to providing your average daily forecast, that’s where there has been a lot of shift.”
Weather networks have had to branch out into the digital universe with a series of apps, online offerings and push technology that lets users not only get the latest forecasts, but customize that information to their specific needs.
At The Weather Channel, its own Intellicast, one of the leading providers of mobile and online weather information, provides up to date and customizable information through apps on iPhone and Android devices, allowing business travelers and outdoor enthusiasts to check conditions in their respective destination. On TV, viewers can see national and local forecasts. During specific weather events, the network can beam local coverage to specific markets without disrupting the national feed.
“We can broadcast just to them and the rest of the country sees Secrets of the Earth,” Clark said. “We have a server in every headend in the country. We’ve gone from providing forecast information every 10 minutes to providing forecast persistently on-screen, 24/7, 365, including over commercials.”
That previous lack of local focus was one of the criticisms of The Weather Channel last year when satellite-TV provider DirecTV dropped the channel for three months, claiming it charged too much for service and didn’t forecast the weather anymore. DirecTV signed rival outlet WeatherNation to a long-term deal, adding that its focus on up-to-the-minute weather information was what customers were demanding.
For WeatherNation, that means pumping weather video and data to multiple screens. WeatherNation president Michael Norton said the channel has deals with Roku, iOS, Android, Samsung, Sony and LG smart TVs and Microsoft Xbox video-game consoles. In addition to providing basic information to different devices, Norton said the channel also allows users to customize that information, including tailoring forecasts to specific markets, travel destinations and other areas of interest.
While it is considerably smaller — WeatherNation is available in about 30 million homes, vs. about 100 million for The Weather Channel — the dispute served as a wake-up call to the larger network, which pledged to devote more time to providing viewers with local weather information and less on reality and taped programming.
Clark said that the amount of time devoted to non-forecast programming — documentaries and weather science information series like Secrets of the Earth and Tornado Alley — is about the same for the channel. But the way it goes about presenting information has changed.
The digital products serve as a complement to the TV network, Clark said, and are geared in part to not only drive viewers to the channel but to enhance their overall experience.
“Audiences are telling us which of our products they want to use when and for what purpose. If you’re on your bike, you might want to have the weather on your watch,” Clark said. “If you want to know what the weather will be at 3 o’clock today, you use the Weather Channel app. If you’re concerned about tornado activity in your area, you’re going to turn on the TV to watch [tornado expert] Dr. Greg Forbes. All of those things work together.”
The pairing of digital and TV information also seems to resonate with advertisers.
“If I see a line of storms moving through the Southeast, in our mind that is a great opportunity for a brand like Michelin to be associated with the general forecast,” Norton said, adding that a growing number of advertisers are beginning to see the value of being able to buy spots that air locally during particular weather events.
Clark agreed, adding that TWC has been targeting ads to weather phenomena for some time, but it has also taken the concept a step further. Even mild weather attracts different reactions in different markets, he said.
“What we have found, and what advertisers are loving, is that there is an emotional connection to the weather around you that drives behavior,” Clark said. “If you can understand that, it can impact your sales.”
PACKING INFO INTO BITES
Where the two companies differ is in their approach to how much time viewers spend with the network. At WeatherNation, Norton said he realizes that weather info is a commodity. He said he’s trying to find ways to best monetize how its viewers engage with the network, usually in short five-to-seven-minute bursts several times per day.
“The trick is not necessarily how do I get somebody to view longer — Mother Nature will help you with garnering viewership longer — but how do I monetize the short time they were here?” Norton said.
That could take several forms, including integrating ad messages with particular weather situations and presenting pre-roll ads for on-demand programming.
The Weather Channel is trying to do the opposite, investing in shows and personalities that keep viewers watching longer. Average viewing minutes have gone up by double-digit percentages in primetime as the channel has moved to build habits, with viewers airing popular NBC weather personality Al Roker in the morning and science and information shows in the evening. But as is the case with WeatherNation, the company remains true to its original mission.
“This is not about entertainment; people really need this information,” Clark said. “When there is a storm, nothing else matters. When there isn’t a storm, there’s always weather. We think there are a million stories to be told.”