Advertising and Marketing

Upfronts 2010: Brisk Sell for Weather Channel

CEO Kelly combines TV, online units; will re-launch Website 4/12/2010 12:15:00 AM Eastern

Upfront

Central: Complete Coverage from B&C
In
the past eight months,
The Weather Channel President-
CEO Michael J. Kelly
has been breaking down silos
between the NBC Universalbacked
network's businesses.
He is also on a mission to extol
the multimedia brand as the
upfront pie gets divided, he
tells B&C in his first
in-depth
interview
since taking
on the role
in August
2009.

Formerly
president of
AOL Media
and chief
marketing
executive at
Time Warner, Kelly plans to
evangelize Weather Channel's
new directions during general
ongoing meetings with agencies,
rather than at a dedicated
upfront event.

Kelly, who was hired with a
charge to reorganize the media property and put it on solid footing,
has combined Weather's TV and online
technology and content divisions, which
had previously operated independently,
he says. The company, owned by NBCU
and private equity firms Bain Capital and
Blackstone Group, was acquired at the
height of the market for $3.5 billion.

INVESTING IN
INFRASTRUCTURE

The CEO says he also is investing heavily
in Weather Channel infrastructure. He
plans to relaunch Weather.com in July
and says he will make improvements in
live programming and originals. Since he
joined the company, Weather has launched
additional HD channels. "We're looking
to increase engagement with the consumer
and increase value," he says.

Weather sits alongside Disney's
ESPN
and Time Warner's CNN as part of a small
cadre of companies that are as popular, if
not more, online and in mobile as they are
on TV. One unique sell that Weather Channel
has is knowledge of the consumer. The
entity knows where people are and where
they are going as they search for weather
and travel details. That's something
agencies have tried to buy from the firm,
though for obvious reasons the company
keeps a tight rein on its data.

Kelly has drafted a new ad sales
chief,
Beth Lawrence, who came from Yahoo last
December. She has signed up auto giant Toyota
to sponsor The Weather Channel's brandnew,
free iPad app (there is also a paid app).
Within the first five days of the iPad launch,
the free app was the third most popular.

Currently on-air is a
cross-platform campaign from Nationwide Insurance that sponsors an
emergency readiness program, Weather Ready, which covers everything from
TV vignettes to online content to mobile alerts about pollen counts.

But
the cross-platform sell isn't an easy one, even while media agencies
talk about the importance of being media-neutral. While TV buyers are
still the lead negotiators, separate digital agencies often control
parts of client's budgets. According to Lawrence, TV upfront packages
will all contain a multimedia component, and Kelly is investing in
marketing and communications to get the word out about the company's
cross-platform capabilities.

The company has interactive
applications already in operation with satellite distributors DirecTV
and Dish. Kelly says he's in talks with cable and telcos about expanding
that business; he declined to specify which companies he has contacted.

As for Weather Channel TV programming such as Storm Stories or
Tornado Week turning up online at either Hulu or Fancast Xfinity, that
aspect of the cross-platform strategy is still in play. Kelly responds,
"As the industry moves, along we'll be enthusiastic participants."

Meanwhile,
a question looms over Weather's future ownership structure, given
NBCU's pending acquisition by Comcast Corp. Time Warner has long had an
interest in the property should it come available.

Kelly won't
address questions about Weather's current financials other than to say,
"It has been reported that we had a very successful refinancing and
strong investor demand."

In March, TWCC Holding Corp., the financial
entity that owns The Weather Channel, refinanced its $1.3 billion term
loan. The fact that so many banks wanted in on that refinancing has
engendered some confidence that the firm is headed in the right
direction.

This month, The Weather Channel announced it had passed
the 100 million subscriber mark, a feat achieved only by Turner's TBS.
The service receives 11 cents per subscriber, according to SNL Kagan.
Ratings in both total viewers and the 25-54 demographic are up
year-on-year for the first quarter, in part thanks to the giant
snowstorm that hit the East Coast in February and a variety of
unpredictable weather events. The channel ranks No. 45 in 25-54 with
ratings up 12% in the period, according to Nielsen data.

The company
claims a total cumulative audience of 120 million users and says 30
million people rely on all three platforms: TV, online and mobile. By
comparison, CNN's total cumulative audience is 130 million.

September
October