The Weather Channel Cos. CEO David Kenny says the forecast for the company — including its cable network — is sunny, despite a recent round of company-wide layoffs and the removal of the word “channel” from the official company name — it’s now The Weather Co. Kenny recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the company’s recent changes and the programming investments the company plans to make in The Weather Channel. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: What is the strategy behind the company name change?
David Kenny: The reason we think The Weather Co. is a better indication of what we offer is that we’ve just found a lot of demand for weather in a lot of places. At the core, if you check the data, we are the best weather forecaster in the world. We have the most accurate data for the most places no matter how you cut it. People want that to run their businesses, and we also sell it to airlines and retailers. Local broadcasters want to tell the weather story, so we have a large number of local broadcasters who rely on us for the weather data, maps and storytelling. Folks also want that on the Web, so we have weather.com and Weather Underground, and of course people want that on television, and we tell that on The Weather Channel. So by being The Weather Co., I think it’s more respectful of all the different customers we have that we’ll serve the weather forecast and the weather story in the best way that suits them. It’s a better reflection of how the company operates.
MCN: So under the newly branded company — and given the recent layoffs at The Weather Co. — does The Weather Channel still play as important a role within the overall company strategy as it did before?
DK: I think that’s a little misreading [of the move]. Let me clarify a couple of things. Last week, we unfortunately did trim some positions, but that was across the board, so it wasn’t specific to the television business. Secondly, I think it was reflective of our desire to be efficient and to have the ability to invest. You’ll actually see us investing in television because we think there is a need to tell the story better. I think you’ll also see a stronger graphics presentation and see us working with the talent as well as outside parties to make the stories more interesting. We certainly expect to increase the ratings for our television channel and we intend to do that by super-serving the weather enthusiasts. We have become more focused, but that doesn’t mean we’re cutting back, but rather investing in a more precise direction.
MCN: Is that investment in The Weather Channel more toward the primetime reality content that we currently see, or in how you’re presenting the actual weather on the channel?
DK: First, we’re going to invest in how we present the weather. We know that there’s a live mission, so you’ll never see us walking away from that mission, even when we are showing filmed entertainment because we know from the weather enthusiasts that they care that the weather story is always front and center. We’re also working on the technology and presentation of local weather. Some of the “Local on the Eights” [segments] need an update — we’ve got better technology and better forecasts, so we need to tell that story better, and it’s a big part as to why the weather enthusiasts come to us for local [weather].
I would lastly say that when you see us doing reality, we are being much more focused about Mother Nature being the leading character in anything we do .
MCN: What types of investments will you be making on the digital front?
DK: You have already seen investments. I think you’re going to see a multi-branded approach. You’ll see us focus on weather.com, which is a very important decisionmaking tool and the most broadly used product we have. Weather.com really helps people plan their days and plan their weekends. It’s a very useful life-preparedness tool.
Conversely, Weather Underground has given us a chance to engage a different community that’s very engaged in the weather and wants to contribute. You’ll find more blogs and contributions from the community on weather underground, so it’s a different digital audience than weather.com. We also have Intellicast, which is more of the paid app. I think you’ll see us moving to more of a portfolio of brands with different weather for different needs.