For the Weather Channel, Sandy was a perfect storm, bringing
record numbers of viewers on TV, an all-time high in digital traffic and the
advertising dollars that go with them.
"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
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
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
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
"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
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,"
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
"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.