The Weather Channel’s Strategic Blunder

The Weather ChannelFor the past two weekends, the southeast has experienced severe weather, along with tornadoes and associated deaths. On each of the Friday nights — when warnings and watches were in place in the region — The Weather Channel chose to stick with a new strategic move, the showing of weather-related movies. It’s an attempt to garner ratings and revenue, but the popular (during severe weather) cable channel is risking its brand altogether in so doing. It’s a lesson in the loss of brand focus.

This is, of course, very good news for local broadcasters, because The Weather Channel had been posing a serious threat to the local weather franchise, the most important franchise in nearly every market. The Weather Channel’s blunder here is going to go down in history as one of the most talked about strategic marketing errors since New Coke, and I can’t imagine it’ll last very long.

Mike James, editor of the popular Newsblues website, has been biting and relentless in his criticism of the move.

The Weather Channel is about profit. It’s about reducing the enormous debt that threatens the financial integrity of NBC Universal. It’s about iPad and iPhone apps. It’s about cross-platform promotions. It’s about interactivity and satellite distribution. It’s about synergy and Hulu’s’ and Fancast Xfinity.

Weather? We don’t need no stinkin weather. We got movies. We got news coverage of President Obama signing the health care initiative. But most of all, we got debt. In March, TWCC Holding Corp., the financial entity that owns The Weather Channel, refinanced its $1.3 billion term loan.

And while corporate NBCU (now Comcast?) tries to handle the debt it sustained when purchasing The Weather Channel, AR&D Senior Strategist and expert in local weather Jim Willi, says they’re actually shooting themselves in the foot.

After two decades of building the strongest, most recognized brand in weather, the Weather Channel, in my opinion, is on some misguided mission that is going to irreparably harm that brand. The Weather Channel has been a clearly positioned brand — they cover severe weather like no one else. You can tune in anytime for a look at weather across the country, and the local forecast on the 8’s.

Our research — for years — has shown the Weather Channel to be a strong weather force in most every local market in the country. They sometimes become the third choice for local weather if there is a weak #3 station. They always get votes for a station to turn to for severe weather. Now they want to be known for movies?

Besides movie nights — they also seem bent on having other taped weather programs from their meteorologists. That too is off brand in my opinion. The Weather Channel is all about convenience for viewers. If I want the weather 24 hours a day I tune to the weather channel. Well, that isn’t the case anymore. With local TV stations using a digital channel more and more for 24 hour weather — they could eventually make the national Weather Channel irrelevant — unless they get back on brand.

Jim CantoreThis past Friday night, while The Weather Channel showed the film “Wind,” people were actually killed by tornadoes. Jim Cantore, the face of The Weather Channel and an advocate for severe weather coverage, got in trouble over a couple of tweets. On Friday night at 5:20pm, he wrote:

TWC is NOT doing movie night tonight. They are staying LIVE to cover SVR WX Outbreak.”

Cantore was in Louisville for NBC’s coverage of the Kentucky Derby the following day and was misinformed, prompting this tweet at 10:32pm:

I want to apollogize (sic) to all of you. I was SEVERELY misled. Was told we were bagging the ‘movie’ to do what this network was created for.”

According to Newsblues’ James, this resulted in a telephone tongue lashing and will be dealt with later.

Cantore can be excused for his anger. He’s a hardcore weather guy with a long history of chasing severe weather. Residents along the coast have given him the nickname “The Angel of Death.” When Cantore shows up, ugly weather isn’t far behind. He’s a member of both the National Weather Association and the American Meteorological Society, and he holds the AMS Television Seal of Approval.

But he’s also come to symbolize NBC-Universal’s formula for taking something successful then multi-platforming it into a cloying unwatchable mess. He’s covered Space Shuttle launches, the “Winter X Games,” PGA tournaments, and NFL games, none of which have much to do with weather. He’s a regular on the “Today” show.

Somebody is going to have to wake up at NBCU and see what’s really happening here, or The Weather Channel will cease to be a force in either the online or on-air universe. It’s a horrible blunder to show movies in times of crisis and another example of what happens when managers put profit above serving the people formerly known as the audience.

You can bitch and moan all you want about stations interrupting programming for severe weather, but if you want to be taken seriously by people in the community as a place to turn to in times of emergencies, then performance when the chips are down means everything. The Weather Channel appears to have forgotten that.

There’s an old saying in marketing that it’s hard to take something away from a market leader. Sometimes you just have to wait until they make a mistake. This is certainly one of those times.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)

Comments

  1. Great post.

    The Cantore tweets are an interesting aspect of the story; he seems to get it, but he’s locked into the TWC/NBC‑U system (hence James’ send-up of his various appearances).

    I don’t know if local folks would turn to TWC rather than the leading, local station during extreme weather (have you seen any research on it?). For a regional and national audience, many of who have loved ones in harms way, TWC coverage provides helpful information and compelling, human drama. Oh yeah, it’s also their reason for being.

    Couldn’t find a “Mission Statement,” but this is the lead of their “About Us” page:

    “Since 1982, The Weather Channel has brought timely weather information to the world.

    Beginning as a 24-hour, 7 day television network devoted entirely to weather, it has expanded across several mediums to bring the breaking weather to its viewers and users.”

    In summary — you’re right on. This is a complete failure by TWC to serve its own purpose.

  2. TWC has definitely sunk into the cesspool of advertising for dollars.
    They now have started dividing the TV screen into 2 sections. The top 75% of the screen is the normal broadcast. The bottom 25% is set aside for a running weather report, sight temperatures or a radar map. The left 25% of the lower band has a running ad for weather channel upcoming events (read Storm stories, When weather changed history, Vortex2, Weather App for iPhones, Cantorre stories, ad nauseum),
    A couple months ago, I was waiting to get the 7 day weather report at 20 after the hour. They no more than started the 7 day forecast when they had to announce that the sun was rising over Atlanta and give Atlanta a Good Morning. Do I really care that the sun is rising over Atlanta? Needless to say, there was NO 7 day forecast as they had to act as if the sunrise was the next best thing since sliced bread (to use an old cliché).

    I watch TWC on the 8’s of the hour for the forecast only. The rest of the garbage they are trying to present is not worth the time to watch it.

  3. Great post.

    The Cantore tweets are an interesting aspect of the story; he seems to get it, but he’s locked into the TWC/NBC‑U system (hence James’ send-up of his various appearances).

    I don’t know if local folks would turn to TWC rather than the leading, local station during extreme weather (have you seen any research on it?). For a regional and national audience, many of who have loved ones in harms way, TWC coverage provides helpful information and compelling, human drama. Oh yeah, it’s also their reason for being.

    Couldn’t find a “Mission Statement,” but this is the lead of their “About Us” page:

    “Since 1982, The Weather Channel has brought timely weather information to the world.

    Beginning as a 24-hour, 7 day television network devoted entirely to weather, it has expanded across several mediums to bring the breaking weather to its viewers and users.”

    In summary — you’re right on. This is a complete failure by TWC to serve its own purpose.

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