Why David Kenny Forecasts Mobile as Weather’s Future

We love talking about the weather. Our lives are pretty much directed by what’s happening outside. We check the weather on myriad devices, and as more people move to smartphones and tablets, David Kenny, The Weather Channel’s CEO since January, sees mobile as the route for the media company to truly go global.

For TWC, mobile is a logical next step. It started its life as a cable network in 1982, then was early to the Web with the launch of Weather.com in 1996, which went on to become one of the Web’s most popular sites. Now, it’s establishing itself as a force in mobile, with over half its traffic coming from mobile devices, both phones and iPads. The Weather Channel’s app sits as the fifth most-downloaded app for Apple devices. Kenny believes that the weather app is to mobile what email is to the PC; people check it everyday (often multiple times a day) and then make decisions.

“Mobile is our focal point in a global standpoint,” Kenny said. “There, we have huge demand and both operating systems and manufacturers believe it’s a critical app for functionality.”

Kenny was an interesting choice for TWC to replace former chief executive Mike Kelly. He arrived after serving for a little over a year as president of video-infrastructure company Akamai. Kenny was a force in the ad world, building Digitas as one of the largest independent agencies prior to Publicis buying it for $1.3 billion in 2006. At Publicis, Kenny led its digital strategy and built VivaKi, its shared digital group. Many saw Kenny as a natural successor to longtime Publicis chief Maurice Levy. After leaving Digitas, Kenny was mooted as a potential CEO at Yahoo, where he serves on the board.

In TWC, Kenny inherited a multiplatform brand with deep ties to digital media. Nowadays, in an age when the mantra is “mobile first, Web second,” that means focusing like a laser on mobile. Kenny sees TWC continuing to invest in more functionality across mobile platforms, much like its recent partnership with Nokia. In February, it was announced that an interactive Weather Channel app will come preloaded on Nokia’s Lumia phones and will include forecasts, from hourly up to ten days. There’s social integration that lets users post to Facebook and share videos. Based on the weather forecast, users will get lifestyle alerts to help with their activities (e.g., getting an alert that it’s raining, so it might not be wise to start your Little League game). Additionally, the company believes that connected TV will be big and that people will have apps on TVs over the next two years. Kenny believes that a part of the way to get video and TV distribution is to build off the mobile app infrastructure and connect to TVs.

“Increasingly, we see how our platform connects to other people’s platforms.” said Kenny. “Other folk who build local that want to do things beside us can connect mobile app and browser experience.”

To celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary on May 2 there will be a new version of the website to home in on the more than 40,000 local sites who tap into Weather.com, which had 43.6 million uniques in March 2012 and a little more than one billion page views, according to ComScore.

Between mobile, TV and the Web, the Weather Channel offers up several platforms for advertisers. The company hired Beth Lawrence in 2010 to head ad sales and recently snagged Curt Hecht as chief revenue officer. Working beneath Lawrence and Hecht, there are platform specialists who also can take a more general approach, according to Kenny.

“We want to make sure we have best in class to think about a broad platform,” said Kenny. “We have a focused team of mobile specialists, and digital and cable experts. Because it’s one team, everyone knows about all three, but knows one of the three the strongest. That’s how we work with advertiser clients and agencies.”

At a recent Digiday event, Pat McCormack, the company’s vp of mobile and sales strategy emphasized this approach when he said that his team, while responsible for selling both platforms, makes a big distinction between mobile and tablets.

The Weather Channel also has a team that approaches client solutions in a creative way by packing applications of its properties. For example, it will do weather- related ads for clients to match to advertising. If there’s a high pollen count, you might get an ad for allergy medicine.

“Accurate geo-targeting is the most obvious benefit,” said Chris Paul, svp of media for Digitas. “Weather.com’s users regularly provide credible data on where they are or where they’re going to be shortly. This intelligence has applications for marketers across multiple industries. Another benefit is the transactional nature of the many visits to Weather.com — once you’ve checked the forecast, you may be readily guided to another site by a savvy marketer who’s placed a relevant message adjacent to the Weather.com content.”

Kenny declined to discuss what its CPMs are, but did say that “they’re healthy.” The site has a huge audience, is used everyday multiple times a day on multiple devices from individual users and is targeted by zipcode which can be helpful for advertisers. TWC doesn’t have a private exchange, but does work with ad networks. While strategically, it’s not a big part of what the company does, according to Kenny, it is important, he says, “to gain share in how buyers buy the market.”

“The more sophisticated the network means we can price the right way,” he said. “We don’t sell it in places that commoditize us. It’s tied to targeting and engagement metrics.”

The Weather Channel taps into people’s everyday lives; it’s a conversation starter. For the past three decades we’ve gotten our weather information from television, but the proliferation and ubiquity of mobile devices offer The Weather Channel’s consumer and advertisers more ways of talking about weather.

“There are new choices,” said Kenny. “With Weather.com and the mobile app, we find people consume it more. We add new things to give people more uses.”


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