Monday, July 21, 2008

Mapping Social Media on the Weather Channel


$3.5 billion. That’s what NBC and two private equity firms are paying Landmark Communications for Atlanta based The Weather Channel.

That’s a hefty sum for a media property that began in the 1980’s as analog cable network. Especially if you consider that investors initially thought a channel devoted to weather was “insane.” That’s according to former CEO Mike Eckert who had significant impact on the success of the Weather Channel and weather.com.

In the beginning, investors were convinced that only makers of raincoats and galoshes would be interested in a 24 hour a day weather channel.

With the success of its cable channel and the emergence of the Web, it is easy to forget that local television stations were broadcasting 13 minutes of weather in the course of a day when Weather Channel was launched.


Today, Weather.com gets about 37 million unique visitors every month, placing it among the 15 most heavily trafficked sites online and the most popular brand online in 2007.

The Weather Channel interests me for a couple of reasons. One it is an Atlanta based company. I have talked about Atlanta’s resistance to social media, but The Weather Channel seems more the exception.

Second, independent of location, I tend to focus on companies that embrace social media to build their user base. The Weather Channel understands how to use technology to extend its content beyond traditional market niches.

While many companies resist social media, it’s a “no brainer” for Monisha Longacre, vice president of product strategy and development for The Weather Channel Interactive. “A sea of people are hungry for content” at the same time that consumers are providing them with content through photos and videos. Weather is an “asset that can be monetized at the local level.”

Its use of technology is all part of The Weather Channel Interactive’s strategy. TWCi is the leading provider of broadband and wireless weather products including weather.com, Desktop Weather by The Weather Channel, and The Weather Channel Mobile.

Along with interactive maps, TWCi is using blogs, widgets, photo sharing and webcams to deepen its ties with users.

Blogs

The Weather Channel senior meteorologist Steve Ostro is one of several Weather Channel personalities who blog. He has a wide fan base and uses the weather.com blog to extend on-air commentary. A recent post received 139 comments.

But don’t expect to find news of Weather Channel’s sale on its technology tools. That’s because social media is used to discuss weather, not the company.

The Weather Channel’s blog is not a corporate blog. It’s used to discuss the weather, not The Weather Channel. In other words, users are not going to post a comment to complain about the Weather Channel when the weather is bad.

And as far as The Weather Channel is concerned, any discussion about the weather extends its brand by engaging its users.

Longacre told me that they have been using blogs for a “long, long time – long before their mass adoption by other companies.”

Photo Sharing

The Weather Channel greatly benefits from user-generated content through its photo sharing capabilities. According to Longacre, photo sharing has been a “huge success.” It was created in large part to channel the hundreds of thousands of unsolicited photos and videos they receive from users – particularly of their pets. Plans are underway to tag photos so users can search locally.



Widgets

Weather.com is also using widgets to deliver the Weather Channel brand to their users’ own websites and drive traffic back to weather.com.

The Weather Channel is extending its reach and placing weather in a different context. Clearly sites for golf and other sporting events and hotels and resorts benefit from weather information.

Other Web 2.0 Technologies

All this technology reflects the competitive nature of weather. The Weather Channel is competing with niche portals like WeatherBug and local news stations that are beefing up their weather coverage.

To help maintain a competitive advantage, The Weather Channel acquired Weather Bonk last year.

Weather Bonk is essentially a mashup that lets users view real time weather information. It provides highly localized weather updates through, what Longacre describes as, the largest network of webcams on the Internet. Users can get weather conditions at the mirco level and making “reality the concept of providing forecasts smaller than a zip code.”

The Weather Bonk acquisition is a part of its efforts to seek opportunities that complement the core assets of TWCi, ideally any natural extensions of weather.com’s Web and mobile sites. Future targets may include travel, vacations, health, recreation, playing and watching sports, traffic and other local content and green living.

While many companies fear social media, it seems clear that the Weather Channel recognizes its merits and will continue to tap its users’ continued interest in something as basic as the weather.

As for its acquisition, Eckert worries about its impact on Atlanta and the business community. But Eckert also believes what may be a loss for Atlanta is gain for consumers of weather. The acquisition gives them resources and the reach to continue linking weather with one the biggest online brands.

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 16:33:42 | Permalink | Comments (2)