Ad Dollars Follow Sandy to Weather Channel
New digital products attract sponsors
By Jon Lafayette -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/4/2012 10:00:00 PM
"There is no question that as horrible as the storm is, from a business standpoint, we are in the business of weather and more audience tends to mean more revenue," said Curt Hecht, chief global revenue officer for The Weather Co.
In addition to advertisers traditionally attracted by coverage of bad weather --notably companies selling insurance and equipment like generators -- new advertisers, including movie studios, were drawn to Weather Channel's big audiences.
Advertisers were also attracted to new digital products created by Weather Channel, including a live stream of storm coverage online, which was sponsored by State Farm.
"I think after 30 years of handling storms there's kind of a set playbook around here in terms of how things kick into action," Hecht said.
But this storm was unusual because of the way it affected Weather Channel's sales force.
"Our New York team was definitely on a personal level impacted by the storm and so they did a tremendous balancing act," says Hecht. "In a way, internally, they were heroes because they know that this is our Super Bowl with the company and this particular time it happened to hit our biggest sales office and so people were trying to juggle their family, juggle damage to their homes, reach out to marketers and do their job."
With no power at the office, Weather Channel sales executives worked from home. "Many times I had a New York sales person putting down a chainsaw to take a phone call or send an email back to a client. So that was the biggest surprise in terms of how our own people were able to balance a horrible event that impacted them on top of driving the company and having their 'A' game when we needed them," he said.
Hecht declined to say just how much incremental revenue a storm like Sandy generates for the Weather Cos., a privately-held joint venture partly owned by NBCUniversal. But he conceded "it does make a difference in our revenue over the balance of the year for sure."
The incremental revenue comes despite the fact that from time to time, the channel reduces its commercial load to provide viewers with needed information.
"We defer to the live news team," Hecht says. "We got a couple of emails where they actually needed us to pull back on commercial load and we immediately did that. At the end of the day giving people then news they need is the first priority and so more often than not we were giving back commercial time so they could provide the coverage that they thought they needed to provide."
Hecht noted that The Weather Channel planned to air NBCU's concert fundraiser, Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together, Friday night, which was designed to air commercial free.
"When you end up being the number one cable network for a couple of days it has a pretty significant impact" on revenue. Weather.com also had more than 300 million page views, its largest audience ever. "And then you have a couple of new innovative products that pull through and almost in spite of yourself you're going to do better on revenue."
The huge audience storms like Sandy generate also gave The Weather Channel an opportunity to manage its inventory. "If we were running behind on audience guarantees, we'd make them up," Hecht said. That puts the network "in a good position with marketers as we move into the new broadcast year."
Weather Channel sponsors approach extreme weather coverage in different ways.
"There are a lot of marketers who know these storms will happen. They don't know when, but during the upfront cable process they'll basically carve out or essentially reserve time for the storms in advance," Hecht says. "During these storms, people are going to come for knowledge and information and the easier we can make it for marketers to connect to people that need that information or our products or services, the better off we are."
Hecht said the marketers that buy storm packages in the upfront tend to be the network's endemic advertisers, those in the insurance business or in the power category selling either backup generators of batteries.
Other advertisers want to be more flexible and buy storm coverage opportunistically as if it were scatter. Those include other insurance companies and retailers. During Sandy, Weather Channel also saw strong buying from the movie studios, something it hadn't seen much of previously.
When storms shift viewer from entertainment shows to the Weather Channel, advertisers need to adjust if they want to reach their media goals. "We probably should be doing a better job of bringing in more movie studios and more traditional marketers so that they can achieve those goals," Hecht says.
Marketers also signed up to sponsor new digital products, like the live stream. Several advertisers were interested and offered to buy additional advertising as part of a package. But State Farm ended up as the exclusive sponsor.
"There was no intention to monetize that initially, but we called up some of the marketers to let them know we were doing it. There were quite a few marketers that wanted to do that, but [State Farm] did it exclusively," Hecht said.
"My suspicion is it will turn into more of a franchise going forward in terms of how we provide live news during times of need using the new digital platforms that are out there at scale these days," he said.
Another relatively new product is called My Friend's Weather, which links weather.com and Facebook via Facebook Connect, letting people know how their friends are doing during a storm. When it had its debut during Hurricane Isaac, Travelers Insurance was the sponsor. During Sandy, My Friend's Weather was sponsored by Duracell.
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