Riding a Cross-Platform Wind

Weather Channel CEO harnesses power of online and mobile strength

Why This Matters

Mike Kelly

President/CEO, The Weather Channel Cos.

B.A., University of Illinois, 1979

Fortune, sales representative, Southeast sales manager, New York manager, 1983-1989
Entertainment Weekly, Eastern sales director,VP/advertising director, VP/publisher, 1989-2000
American Town Network, founder/CEO, 2000-2002
Time Warner, president of global marketing, 2002-2004
Time Warner/AOL Media Networks, president, 2004-2007
Veronis Suhler Stevenson, senior advisor, 2007-2009
Current position since 2009

b. May 17, 1957; married Martha Hall Oct. 16, 1982. Two daughters and a son

The media forecast calls for more cross-platform advertising.
And putting traditional and digital audiences
together is nothing new to Mike Kelly. That’s one reason the climate’s right for the
new CEO at The Weather Channel.

Kelly had never worked in TV before
being hired last year by the network’s
new owners, NBC Universal, Bain Capital
and Blackstone Group. But in addition to
being one of the oldest and most broadly
distributed cable brands, Weather is a
powerhouse online and in mobile, and
that’s where Kelly fits right in.

“That’s really his DNA,” says John
Suhler, founding partner and president
of the media-oriented private investment
fund Veronis Suhler Stevenson, where
Kelly served as advisor for two years.
“Mike Kelly has oodles of experience in
terms of advertising networks,” and that
knowledge helped the investment firm
understand new media as it was becoming
a more important factor in evaluating
media properties. “He’s also a great
coach and leader. He’s got a very upbeat
personality,” Suhler adds.

Kelly started his career in sales with
the Chicago Tribune in 1980. He moved
to Time Inc. in 1983, helped launch
Entertainment Weekly in 1990 and later
became its publisher. Then he left Time
Warner to start American Town Network,
an early digital company focusing
on community-based information. He returned to Time Warner as president
of AOL Media Networks from 2004 to
2007, where he built the ad business
through acquisitions, growing revenues
from $600 million to $2.2 billion.

Before joining The Weather Channel,
Kelly served on the board of digital media
companies Eyeblaster, Visible World and
American Town Network, in addition to
his work at Veronis Suhler Stevenson.

Kelly first caught the digital bug while
at EW. The magazine was put together
digitally on Macs, making it easy to get its
content online in 1993. “We realized that
if you had a product like Entertainment
that was creating a one-way dialog
via the magazine,” he says, “and all of a
sudden you had a two-way discussion, it
made it very interesting and powerful.”

At one point, Kelly had to leave a Time
Warner digital task force meeting and
drive to Fairfield, Conn., to register his
son for Little League; then he wondered
why people couldn’t do that sort of thing
online. He put together a business plan
for American Town Network that would
allow localities to put information on the
Web. It was a bit ahead of its time, Kelly
says, but still exists today, generating 4
million visitors per month.

Despite his experience in digital media, Kelly was surprised by what he
found at The Weather Channel. “They
had built such a big franchise online,
and were building such a big franchise
on mobile while maintaining a big franchise
on television,” he says.

His goal is to meld the three, making it
easier for advertisers to follow consumers
as they move among them: “We’ve gone
all-in with cross-platform.”

Kelly is new to the TV side of the business,
but he’s learning fast, according to
Sharon Scott, executive VP of Peacock
Productions and the NBC executive in
charge of the relationship with Weather.
Working with NBC News and NBC affiliates, he’s changed the way Weather
covers events so that instead of having
talent standing in front of maps, “We’ve
turned it into an immersive, live ‘at the
weather, in the weather’ kind of channel,”
Scott says.

Kelly is also looking at primetime
programming produced by Peacock
that balances viewer expectations that
the channel will always give them a
forecast with the need to have “compelling
programming about the weather
that’s entertaining,” Scott says. “Mike
has been really aggressive in looking at
that as a combo platter.”

As to his own full plate, Kelly, who is
married with three kids, likes golf and
fishes near his family’s house in Wisconsin.
Since being approached about the new job,
he’s become an avid viewer of the channel,
starting first thing in the morning.

“My wife has joked that if she ever divorces
me, the grounds for divorce are
going to be watching too much Weather
Channel,” he says. Every time I walk
into the room, I grab the remote and
turn it on. And my kids promptly leave
the room.”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him
on Twitter: @jlafayette