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The Forecast Is Sunny for the Weather Channel

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When The Weather Channel, the first 24 - hour all - weather network, began broadcasting in 1982, it quickly became the object of mockery. "Many in the industry ridiculed us, suggesting that the only type of advertiser we would attract would be a raincoat company or a galoshes company," remembers Michael Eckert, The Weather Channel's CEO. Besides pondering where advertising support would come from, critics questioned what kind of audience was going to tune in to a channel that boasts wall-to-wall weather, a topic that sounds as interesting as staring at wallpaper.

So far, the answers to these questions have been quite surprising. In its over twenty years of broadcasting, the channel has gained support from a cadre of deep-pocket advertisers, which include Buick, Motorola, and Campbell's Soup. In 2003, the Weather Channel reached more than 83 million U.S. households in Latin America under the name, El Canal del Tiempo.

According to The Weather Channel's Vice-president of strategic marketing, Steven Clapp, "There might have been a time when people weren't willing to admit that they were viewers. Now people are proud to say they watch us. Research shows that we are (gaining ratings), although it's difficult to isolate why." A major event linked to the increase in popularity of the network is the extensive brand building effort that started in the spring of 1995. Although some viewers will always see the weather as just a commodity, promise for making the presentation of weather forecasts into something brandable lies in a growing segment of "Weather - engaged" viewers, viewers who tune in regularly and ones that the network wants to reach. "Viewers know that they can turn to us for quality forecast and weather expertise. What we're trying to do is take it one step further and emotionally bond with the viewer," says Clapp. Hayes Roth, a branding expert, agrees that branding the channel helps build stronger ties to viewers and advertisers. The company's efforts have spanned from improving the network's products, extending The Weather Channel name to related products, and a promotional blitz.

The network, whose slogan declares that "no place on Earth has better weather," went beyond providing just expert forecasts to create lines of programming tailored to retaining viewer interest. The network uses a staff of more than 100 meteorologists to analyze National Weather Service data and prepare 4,000 localized forecasts. While these local reports are the channel's mainstays, new features have crept in that have had the effect of stretching the average viewing time from 11 minutes to approximately 14 minutes, with some fanatical individuals watching for hours at a time. These new features act to expand what constitutes the channel's weather information and spark the interest of the average viewer beyond the routine weather topics. For example, "The Skiers Forecast" spotlights conditions on ski slopes. The Weather Channel has worked with the National Football League to prepare specialized game day forecasts. Playing off a recent upsurge in interest in the weather among audiences, the network has presented features such as The Chase, a program about people who chase tornadoes, and Forecast for Victory, a one-hour long show that looked at the role of weather in deciding significant battles of World War II. These features keep certain segments of the market glued to the station for more than just the weather forecast.

In order to create more brand awareness and to keep weather forecasts and weather updates as accurate as possible. The Weather Channel and the U.S. Navy teamed up to share information in 2001. The Weather Channel now has access to the Navy's sophisticated technology in order to assist in predicting and presenting the weather. Also, in January 2002, The Weather Channel became the weather forecaster for USA Today's domestic and international issues as well as for USA Today.com. The two companies shared the weather coverage for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The Weather Channel worked to extend its boundaries beyond just the television format. Customized Weather channel reports are available for over 30 online services, 250 radio stations, a hugely popular 900 number phone service, and 64 newspapers across the U.S. - all with The Weather Channel tagline or logo. Just recently, The Weather Channel began to offer wireless weather delivered to handheld devices. This project is in conjunction with Verizon, AT & T, sprint, and Palm Piolt. "If a consumer sees The Weather Channel name in the newspaper, that just reinforces the brand," says Hayes Roth. In addition to these partnerships, The Weather Channel has worked to package weather in creative ways including books, home videos, calendars, educational material for elementary schools, and a CD-ROM titled Everything Weather. In fact, after a hugely positive response on a test mailing, the network started a mail - order catalog of company - themed merchandise. One of the most widely popular line extensions is the company's web site, www. weather.com which enables users to create a personalized weather page. In only 40 minutes after its launch, 1,000 users had already created a customized web page.

In late 2000, Weather.com re-launched its site in an effort to refresh the look, feel and organization of content. The goal is also to enable the site to accommodate more traffic and content, as well as incorporate database functions. Now, Weather.com is delivering even more-highly personalized weather content. The re-launch is part of the site's ongoing strategy to make the weather relevant. It is also continuation of Weather.com's positioning of itself as a lifestyle site. According to Debora Wilson, President and CEO of Weather.com, the company is going to launch new country specific sites to draw more of an audience. The company is hoping the new sites, targeting the UK, France and Germany, will help to boost online revenue. The company began launching the new sites in late 2001 and 2002. There has also been a report about Weather.com including a "portfolio of subscription-based services" on its site but Wilson declined to give estimates of how this would affect revenue.

In an effort to transform itself into a lifestyle destination Web site, Weather.com launched a -4 city test marketing campaign in 2001 that



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