Weather Reports Go Mobile

Cellphone service signs up 80 stations, launches original programming

Weather-information provider Weathernews has teamed with 80 U.S. broadcasters to create the WNI Network and deliver local content to mobile phones. The company is targeting the 18-34 demo with one- to two-minute snippets of original content, such as ski reports and lifestyle-themed segments.

It's the latest enhancement to WNI Network's LiveLocal service, which is available to Sprint Nextel wireless subscribers for $4.99 a month. Broadcast partners—notably Belo, Clear Channel and LIN TV—are gradually adding local video content, such as reports from station meteorologists. Akamai is facilitating video streaming from stations to the cellular network.

Weathernews provides weather data and graphics systems to broadcasters in Japan, where it also programs its own cable channels. Dabbling in TV led Weathernews to venture into cellphone content, and it now reaches more than 1.5 million mobile subscribers, mostly in Japan and Korea.

The company has offered graphics-based weather content and an SMS service to Sprint and Verizon customers in the U.S. for years but began delivering video downloads only last fall. It first partnered with Griffin Communications and its CBS affiliates KWTV Oklahoma City and KOTV Tulsa, Okla., to deliver short forecasts from their meteorologists. Sprint wanted to push more rich media, so Weathernews set out to find more broadcast partners. “In the fall, we challenged ourselves to get 20 more,” says CEO Jeremy Usher. “Three months later, we had 80.”

Weathernews' U.S. content, featuring an American VJ named Callie Bundy, is produced in Japan. The local content will be heavily branded by stations, and Weathernews will work with broadcasters to pursue advertising opportunities while sharing subscription revenue.

NBC affiliate WOOD Grand Rapids, Mich., and CBS affiliate WISH Indianapolis will be the first LIN stations to contribute content to the service. Ed Munson, VP of television for LIN TV, likes the fact that LiveLocal requires a very small technology investment—less than $10,000 per station—and that LIN gets a cut of subscription revenues: “This is a way for us to get our feet wet.”