Many long-time viewers of the The Weather Channel have lamented a transition from exclusive live weather programming to more taped programs and documentaries, sometimes referred to as “weathertainment.” And some have called for an alternative - a channel where you can get live current weather reporting all the time.
Enter Paul Douglas, Founder and CEO of Broadcast Weather. Douglas, founder of the first company, Digital Cyclone, to have a cell phone weather application in 2001 (sold to Garmin in 2007), has a launched a new national weather network called Weather Nation TV.
Paul graciously responded to questions about this network over email.
1) Tell us a little about Weather Nation TV. What exactly is it and how can we tune in?
Paul Douglas: WeatherNation is a new, 24/7 national weather channel that has already launched on cable systems and (simultaneously) on Facebook (in the upper left click on “WNTV 24/7 Video Stream” to see the live channel on Facebook).
At a time when severe weather appears to be increasing, nationwide, we believe there’s room for a second voice when it comes to meteorology and keeping Americans updated on rapidly changing weather patterns - a channel devoted to weather, 24/7. No documentaries, specials or movies, just cutting edge graphics, a heavy emphasis on social media, and a staff of degreed meteorologists (most of whom have their Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seals). We’re very serious about the meteorology part of the equation.
We’re using Facebook to build awareness and make it as easy and convenient as possible for weather enthusiasts to find us, introducing viewers to our meteorologists and all-weather format. We run three constantly updating “National Headline” segments, tapping video clips, photo streams, social media and meteorological explainers, and then break the USA into 6 regions. We take advantage of great visualization technology from Baron Services (including OMNI and Vipir), 3D Live from Weather Central and an exclusive tool called “MeteoEarth” - from a company in Berlin. The goal is to use the latest, greatest 2-D and 3-D tools to tell the weather story, around the clock.
2) How many people are involved in the effort and how do staff it at off hours (late nights/weekends, etc)
Douglas: Our corporate office is based in Denver, with content originating from Denver and Minneapolis. We’re staffed 24/7, a couple dozen meteorologists involved in the effort, on-air and behind-the-scenes.
Our on-air staff has doubled in the last 60 days, and we’re projecting more growth as WeatherNation continues to grow and evolve. Our Vice President for content, Jordana Green, has a 30 year track record in broadcast television – she oversees a staff of executive producers who help the meteorologists aggregate and organize content elements and weave these into our programming. The goal is true interactivity, and we rely on FB, not only for distribution, but for content and story ideas.
3) Why should someone watch? What does Weather Nation TV offer that’s not available in other television, print or digital media?
Douglas: WeatherNation is dedicated to meteorology, 24/7, going beyond the headlines to explain WHY the weather is behaving the way it is. We don’t run documentaries, movies or specials. If someone is interested in getting an update on what’s happening right now, any time of the day or night, they can tune in to WeatherNation on Facebook, and soon, on their local cable system. We’re tapping the power of FB to build awareness and buzz, but we’re quickly realizing that Facebook is a remarkable network in its own right!
4) Why watch Weather Nation on Facebook rather than turn on TV and watch The Weather Channel?
Douglas: Facebook is emerging as a powerful new, ubiquitous media platform. When people are at the office they may not have access to cable – but nearly everyone has a PC, Mac or tablet computer, so Facebook is a very convenient platform to tap into WeatherNation’s live 24/7 stream.
The power of Facebook is interactivity. In addition to tapping into the live, linear stream, FB users can see specific stories, video clips, post comments and questions. You can either watch the WeatherNation stream, or interact with the content for another level of detail. We have the luxury of being able to experiment with new ways to tell the weather story. That means going beyond a one-way flow of information.
On Facebook weather evolves and transforms from a speech to a conversation, and Facebook seems to be the key to true interactivity. We’re hoping “WeatherNation”, the channel, will become a model for other networks that want to tap the power of social media and reinvent the concept of a “network” for the 21st century.
Everyone is on FB (it seems). It made perfect sense to us to go to where consumers are spending a significant percentage of their time. As far as we know we are the only national cable network streaming live, 24/7 content on Facebook. We hope it’s a sign of what’s to come, online.
5) How are you different from the Weather Channel? Do you consider them competitors? If so, how can you take them on given their huge online presence, and considering their broad reach with their NBC assets?
Douglas: The Weather Channel does a terrific job, no question. They are the proverbial 500 pound gorilla. But in a 300+ channel world (with nearly a dozen news channels and dozens of sports alternatives) why is there only one option for weather? The Weather Channel has had a defacto monopoly on weather. At a time when extreme weather is on the rise, we believe Americans should have another viable alternative, one devoted to 24/7 weather coverage, cutting-edge technology, great storytelling, and staff of dedicated on-air meteorologists.
Our focus on both cable and live streaming on Facebook makes our approach considerably different from what The Weather Channel is doing. Rather than going to weather.com, we’re encouraging people to stream the channel when they’re updating their Facebook posts. We’re trying to make it easier and more convenient for consumers to get the weather information they want and need, on their terms.
6) How do you see TV weather evolving in the next five to 10 years? With a 24/7 news cycle, blogs, social media, the explosion of hand-held devices, will there even be local news programs featuring TV weathercasts?
Douglas: The Internet and mobile options won’t “replace” local television, any more than TV replaced radio, or radio replaced print. There are simply more alternatives and choices, a growing spectrum of options for accessing relevant weather content. I think it will be increasingly difficult for local stations to break thru the clutter and noise, the exploding smorgasbord of media options. I think the concept of appointment viewing – trying to draw viewers back to a specific channel at 5, 6 and 11, is an antiquated model in this always-on, instant-gratification media world we live in today.
The smart stations will (quickly) begin to stream their newscasts online. Instead of 3 daily updates, TV meteorologists may create hourly updates, to be distributed on TV, web and mobile. The 3-screen future is real, and stations that don’t spend as much time, effort and resources reaching local viewers online and smartphones are missing the boat, and lucrative new ways to monetize hyper-local weather content, in my humble estimation.
The good news for local TV meteorologists: in spite of personalization and being able to call up Doppler radar and the 7-Day for my town, anywhere, anytime, on any device – viewers still want to understand HOW and WHY. There will always be a need for perspective, analysis and expert opinion, something ONLY the local TV veteran can provide. But if you only limit your station’s content to a one-way flow of information, covering thousands of square miles, your days in local TV are probably numbered.
7) You have been a leader as a weather communicator and in developing weather technology. Do you have a sense as to the next big technological breakthrough (or a related set of breakthroughs) that will revolutionize weather content and communication?
Douglas: I was able to invent 3-D weather graphics (1991) and weather on cell phones (2001) by surrounding myself with smart, creative meteorologists and developers. The challenge all of us have to deal with: how do we prevent weather from becoming a commodity? Nobody wants to be in a commodity business. How can we add enough additional value and take advantage of all these new screens to personalize the weather story?
The stations (and newspapers/content centers) that survive (and thrive) in the 21st century will be the ones that experiment by complimenting the traditional (metro-wide) narrative with pin-point weather personalization. I want to be able to see and hear what my favorite local TV meteorologist is thinking – but I want to (simultaneously) SEE graphics that put my hometown at the center of the map. The macro and the micro – available on any screen, anytime, anywhere. Everyone sees something different, based on their location, their calendar, their specific needs. That’s the future, and my company (Broadcast Weather) is working on the tools, web formats and mobile API’s that will make this convergence a reality.
Stations have to reinvest and reinvent, or die a slow death of irrelevance. Radio had to adapt to satellite radio by launching HD-Radio. Now local TV has to take full advantage of web and mobile to take the next evolutionary step. Smart broadcasters are realizing that their web sites have to be more than just a dumb digital billboard – the visionary broadcasters realize that news, sports and (yes) weather can all be tailored and personalized for web and mobile, to build viewer loyalty and create new options to monetize.
In the very near future, all weather streams will be personalized. That means pull and push alerts. We’re working with large, Fortune 500 companies to personalize severe weather alerting for their employees, via e-mail, SMS and automated phone calls. This same alerting platform will be extended to consumers. The ability to get an alert when lightning strikes within 15 miles of my current GPS location, or if the forecast temperature at the cabin is forecast to drop below 32, or if more than 1” of rain is likely within the next 48 hours (so I don’t have to water my lawn or field) is the next evolutionary trend. We hope to roll this capability out to WeatherNation viewers on multiple platforms.
Weather shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. We all have different needs, commuting patterns, recreation plans – weather impacts all of us differently, and this opens up a tremendous opportunity to tailor weather for individual needs, to add true intelligence to the forecast. A few years from now we’ll look back at the concept of “one forecast” for a metro area and laugh. That doesn’t minimize the need for meteorologists who can explain the weather story, but consumers will expect, even demand their weather information to be personalized, for their calendars, their in-car navigation systems, with targeted alerts that reflect their specific needs.
The bottom line: serve up highly-targeted data streams that save time and money, help people plan their days (and commutes) with greater efficiency, and keep their families safer. We’re just scratching the surface today. With 4G wireless connectivity and Internet-enabled TV sets the forecast of the future will (simultaneously) give people the “big picture”, and neighborhood-level specificity that adds value to their lives.
8) Anything else you’d like to tell us about Weather Nation products and services?
Douglas: “WeatherNation” is now the brand associated with our 24/7 weather channel on cable and Facebook. We licensed WeatherNation for the channel (only), to avoid confusion. We have rebranded our efforts into 4 new companies:
* Broadcast Weather LLC provides graphical and video services for TV stations wishing to save money and streamline operations by outsourcing weather (our meteorologists adopt the brands of the stations we serve, including KARE-11 in the Twin Cities, and other broadcasters from Georgia to Kansas). We also support “CN2”, a local, 24/7 weather channel serving the state of Kentucky which has been wildly successful with viewers and advertisers alike. Insight Communications launched CN2 in June of 2010 and the channel has been highly effective – we envision similar statewide and metro-wide weather channels launching in the near future. We work with WeatherBug, create mobile apps for Polaris, and serve dozens of newspapers with video services (that include meteorologists targeting weather for specific markets). A new iPad-only news service just launched in the San Francisco Bay area, called “Bay News” – we provide hyper-local video weather updates for this exciting new venture – a taste of what’s to come.
* Ham Weather LLC: We have a team of developers focused on graphics, data streams and mobile API’s, serving weather-sensitive clients and weather-related web sites around the word.
* Smart Energy LLC: We’re using our growing database and meteorological staff to serve wind farms around the world, using a new patent-pending algorithm to deliver a consistently more accurate and reliable forecast of wind variables and ultimate wind production to make wind-power more efficient and profitable for operators. Our nation needs to wean itself off foreign crude – wind power provides (carbon-free) energy for the grid. We’re very serious about supporting the growth and profitable proliferation of wind power in the USA and worldwide.
* Singular Logic:. We have a suite of patents pending centered on user-choice in advertising. We’ve created technology that creates a “perfect match” between the demographics advertisers are trying to reach – and what consumers ultimately want to see, a sort of match.com for advertising. This is NOT behavioral-targeting or digital stalking. We are making a (big) bet that, in the very near future, advertising will be opt-in, that we will all have more control over the ads we’re all exposed to every day. In the history of advertising nobody ever thought to ASK consumers what they might want to see. Our real-time ad-serving engine takes advantage of current/predicted weather, time/day, current GPS location and third-party data – all culminating in user choice, to get CPMs as high as possible for each ad served up. The goal is to transform advertising from spam into something closer to wish fulfillment, a win-win for consumers drowning in ads, and advertisers looking for a (privacy-friendly) way to get their targeted messages, services and products in front of true, qualified leads.