You’d think a media company would like its hometown to know that it exists.
But for 14 years, even though the Weather Channel’s headquarters has been located right beside the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285, the company eschewed any sign of its existence. If you took a poll, I doubt many would know it’s been based here since 1982.
Enter Mike Kelly, the CEO tapped nine months ago by a new ownership group. He doesn’t subscribe to that low-key approach. A few weeks ago, two identifying signs went up on the building housing 700 employees, one facing I-75 and the other facing I-285.
“That was an important strategic issue,” Kelly, 52, said. “Once we accomplished that, I knew I was done for the year.”
Not really. He was joking. But that type of visibility is in line with Kelly’s goal of making the Weather Channel, already available in more than 100 million TV houses, more pervasive.
His favorite words are “cross platform.” He used them about two-dozen times during a recent 90-minute interview.
Essentially, Kelly wants to expand the reach of the Weather Channel on TV, the Web, mobile devices and radio. And when he and his staff sit down with distributors and advertisers, he wants the discussion to encompass all of the possible platforms. In consumer lingo, it’s like “bundling” your telecom services. Companies can make more money that way.
Unlike many other media products, the one Kelly is selling — weather news — lends itself to multiple platforms quite well. Consumers frequently want the local forecast at their fingertips as they move throughout the day — from home (TV or Web) to the car (radio or smart phone) to the office (Web) to out and about (smart phone).
“Weather is in our DNA,” Kelly said. By contrast, some media companies are having trouble encouraging consumers to follow their information flow from platform to platform.
As consumers’ love affair with mobile devices grows, the Weather Channel appears to be well-positioned — more than 10 million iPhone users, for example, have already downloaded its application. Kelly said a total of 22 million people now access the channel on mobile devices. On the Web, it captures 42 million unique visitors a month.
The above figures, along with 100 million TV households in the U.S., are key reasons why NBC Universal and two private equity firms, Blackstone Group and Bain Capital, paid $3.5 billion to buy the Weather Channel in 2008.
But I was surprised to learn that unlike CNN’s footprint around the world, the Weather Channel is only seen on TV in the U.S. and Canada.
Why’s that? Kelly explained an interesting contradiction. While the characteristics of weather news make it a good fit for multiple platforms, the local nature of the news makes it more difficult and costly to expand it on TV around the world. Viewers in Brazil might be interested in Venezuelan politics, but not in its weather.
So as the Weather Channel tries to grow internationally, look for Kelly to focus on the mobile and Web platforms.
He said the Weather Channel’s mobile applications, already available in four languages, will add Chinese in a few weeks. “International is a big opportunity for us.”
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