Thu, Jun 07, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Warming to the weather as a media darling

The Weather Channel is holding its line against predators as weather becomes more than a topic of idle conversation


Besides sections devoted to travel, golf and pets, the Web site also has interactive features like blogs and user-submitted videos, as well as information sections that give users tips like how to prepare for severe storms.

New developments -- like the scientific consensus on global warming and US President George W. Bush's proposal to set goals for cutting global emissions -- seem to have made the network's embrace of the topic less risky and more closely tied to its journalistic mission.

"I think the debate for most Americans has moved away from, `Is global warming happening?' to `What do I do?'" Zusmann said. "The viewers want what they always want; they want good television."

Rather than jeopardizing its relationships with potential advertisers, which include car and airline companies, the network's focus on global warming might make it more attractive, said Jason Maltby, president and co-executive director for national broadcasting at MindShare North America, an advertising agency owned by WPP.

"There might be some categories that shy away from global warming, but I don't think that would have an overall large impact," Maltby said.


The Weather Channel is owned by Landmark Communications, a privately held company controlled by the Batten family of Norfolk, Virginia, which also owns daily newspapers and other media properties.

Wilson said she is often asked whether, in the frenzy of media mergers, her network might be sold to a larger corporation.

"Every media conglomeration has approached Landmark, and there's never been a yes," she said, adding that after the "hard early years," Landmark has no plans to lose the channel.

"We actually think that we're stronger being independent," she said.

In one of its most significant investments, The Weather Channel celebrated its silver anniversary by breaking ground on a new US$50 million high-definition video studio adjacent to its current building. All programming will eventually be available in high-definition when the studio is fully operational, by October 2008.

The Weather Channel continues to cut deals with advertisers and media companies, like the online portals Yahoo and AOL.

Toyota sponsors a section of the Web site that gives tips on fishing conditions at various lakes, and WCBS, a local New York television affiliate, supplies The Weather Channel with local videos.

Under a partnership with BusinessWeek, The Weather Channel's First Outlook program offers a look at how the weather affects business.

The main Web site, established in 1995, regularly lands on Nielsen's list of top 10 to 15 sites, attracting 39 million unique monthly visitors in April, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Of the channel's 800 employees, more than 200 work on the Web site; by contrast, the channel has only about 125 dedicated meteorologists.

Wilson acknowledged that ratings for The Weather Channel were down last year from 2005 -- she attributed the decline to the comedown after coverage of Hurricane Katrina -- but said revenues are "growing fairly robustly."

As other television channels and their advertisers struggle to retain viewers in the age of DVRs, The Weather Channel has largely remained immune. Last year, the channel entered into a partnership with Starcom, an agency that is part of the Publicis Groupe, guaranteeing minute-to-minute ratings; at this year's television upfronts, the network extended that guarantee to other advertisers and agencies.

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