Laid off as the chief meteorologist at WCCO Minneapolis three months ago, Paul Douglas is back in the weather game with the syndicated service WeatherNation. With three decades of experience to draw on, Douglas is targeting stations, cable networks and Websites with cutting-edge weather content that is broadcast out of Excelsior, Minn., via a high-speed fiber-optic link.
“It's one-stop shopping for weather content,” he says, adding that programming is available in HD or standard-def, for Web players such as Flash and QuickTime, and for mobile devices.
As stations are typically making due with smaller staffs and budgets, WeatherNation's timing appears to be favorable. Douglas says the service, which includes 3D Doppler radar and a 65-inch interactive touch screen, could replace the last meteorologist on a station's depth chart. The typical cost for a station would run $25,000-$50,000 a year. “We're not threatening the primetime talent,” Douglas says. “It's more the No. 3 or No. 4 meteorologist doing weekend mornings.”
WeatherNation partners can choose their weather services a la carte, right down to the meteorologist and the set. The service currently has six staffers, three of them serving as talent. Douglas is the CEO and will appear on-air.
This week, WeatherNation partners with weather-station maker La Crosse Technology to launch TheWeatherClub.com—which Douglas calls “Facebook for weather enthusiasts.” The WeatherNation Web site, WeatherNation.net, also launches this week.
WeatherNation will derive revenue from subscription fees, leaving ad revenue to partners. Douglas says broadcast outfits may make up 30% of WeatherNation's client base, with cable, pure-play Internet and newspapers also in the mix. “[Versus] could do weather updates for hunters,” he says. WeatherNation president/COO Todd Frostad says potential corporate clients, such as Major League Baseball, are also a focus: “We could tell you, if you're sitting in Section 120 at the ballgame, bring a visor.”
As every station plays up its hyper-local philosophy, many will be resistant to a meteorologist in Minnesota forecasting the weather in, say, Miami. Douglas points out that Weather Channel's Atlanta base and AccuWeather's State College, Pa., home have not hindered those outlets' credibility. He says he can access a “real-time visualization” of the Earth that offers a seven-day outlook for thousands of cities worldwide, and adds that WeatherNation will be up front about its location.
“We're not going to pretend we're in each of the markets,” he says.
Douglas's track record helps his company stand out from other startups. Besides being a very popular Twin Cities meteorologist (he spent 25 years in the market), he sold the 3D graphics system EarthWatch for $3 million in 1997, and more recently sold the mobile weather application Digital Cyclone to Garmin for $45 million.
And whether it's the cyclone in Myanmar last month or the floods in Iowa and Missouri in recent weeks, weather has never been bigger news. Douglas mentions a 25% increase in “extreme weather events” in the last 60 years, citing a study from Environment America.
“Something has changed—it's not our imaginations,” he says.
Some consultants believe the forecast could be favorable for WeatherNation. Mark Toney, senior VP at SmithGeiger, knows Douglas from their time together at WBBM Chicago in the mid-1990s. “He's a terrific weather guy and certainly a successful entrepreneur,” Toney says. “The difficult economic time might just be right for this to work.”
The effusive Douglas says he's been pondering the concept for decades, and his dismissal from WCCO—one of a couple of hundred casualties at the CBS O&Os March 31—freed him up to concentrate on WeatherNation. “I haven't been this excited in 30 years,” he says. “I'm hoping to prove there's life after local television.”