Weather Thinks Locally About OTT

Cable programmer challenges broadcast-TV stations with new ‘Local Now’ app
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Taking a bigger step into the world of over-the-top video apps, The Weather Channel is rolling out “Local Now,” an authenticated TV-everywhere offering for mobile devices that features localized news, weather, sports and traffic reports alongside its national live TV feed.

The Weather Channel launched the Local Now app initially on iOS and Android mobile devices late last week. This summer, it will move ahead with a plan to develop versions for a range of TV-connected platforms, including Roku players and Roku TVs, Apple TV (tvOS), Android TV-powered devices and Amazon Fire TV, according to Freddy Flaxman, chief operating officer of The Weather Group.

Prior to the debut of the new app, The Weather Channel had already been distributing the Local Now service on Sling TV, Dish Network’s over-the-top TV service for cord-cutters. That offering launched in January as part of Sling TV’s core “Best of Live TV” service. The Weather Channel is also closing in on a similar type of OTT deal with a “prominent telco,” Flaxman said.

WEATHER EVERYWHERE

But the big focus will be the TV everywhere angle. The Weather Channel has TVE rights secured with most traditional MVPDs, though discussions are still ongoing with Comcast and Charter Communications. Verizon Communications’s Fios TV dropped Weather in March after their distribution pact expired; Fios now carries AccuWeather Network.

With the new app, Weather decided to play up the local angle because consumers still crave local news and weather information and because The Weather Channel already has the technology in place to produce local content that can be adapted to the new mobile app and do it at scale, Flaxman said.

One example is a technology Weather now uses for its “Local on the 8s” feature. These segments pair text from news sources such as the Associated Press with video on the same topic, generating a video that uses a text-to-speech engine to create a voiceover.

“We think through the combination of our ability with weather and traffic and creative solutions around news, we can deliver a much more modern product that outpaces the local affiliates in the local content dimensions that matter for consumers,” Flaxman said, speaking of broadcast-TV stations. “Local news became a clear place for us where we thought we should play … We think the local affiliate is sort of an antiquated product.”

During this early phase, Local Now will provide localized feeds from 210 locations around the country, and will be looking to further subdivide that coverage to 4,000 locations, as it does today with its traditional network.

“You can toggle between locations as you see fit,” Flaxman said. “To do that at scale, an OTT distributor would have to negotiate with five or six local content companies.”

CHEAPER OPTION

Flaxman also holds that The Weather Channel can provide this sort of local coverage for a fraction of what local broadcast TV affiliates charge to distributors.

In addition to the live national feed and the Local Now offering, The Weather Channel is also looking to add more on-demand capabilities to the app mix.

For now, the network isn’t offering any supplemental ad inventory just for the app.

“We are able to walk before we run in terms of monetization,” Flaxman said, noting that the marginal cost on the app is low because it’s leveraging existing technology to produce much of the content.

“Right now we’re excited about partnering with distributors … and we’re able to make the business work on a sub fee that’s a fraction of the local affiliates,” he said, allowing that potential ad models could be reviewed later.

Taking a bigger step into the world of over-the-top video apps, The Weather Channel is rolling out “Local Now,” an authenticated TV-everywhere offering for mobile devices that features localized news, weather, sports and traffic reports alongside its national live TV feed.

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