The future of WeatherNation: Interview with president Michael Norton

WN_LOGO-for-lori-pngOne of the most dramatic weather moments of this winter occurred not in the atmosphere but on the airwaves. The heated feud between The Weather Channel and DirecTV boiled over in January and February, with both sides lobbing insults at one another after the satellite television company dropped the Atlanta-based weather network over a contract dispute.

On January 14, DirecTV followed through with its threats to drop The Weather Channel over its demand of a one cent per subscriber per month increase in carriage fees, replacing the 32-year-old channel with the relatively new and unknown WeatherNation. Media coverage of the dispute during this time largely focused on the war of words between The Weather Channel and DirecTV – even covering the controversy after a Weather Channel employee Tweeted “#WNation: where meteorologists go to die? ;) ” (The Weather Channel apologized for the tweet and removed the responsible social media editor) –  but few reports talk about the new weather network itself.

The Capital Weather Gang’s Jason Samenow interviewed WeatherNation founder Paul Douglas back in August 2011 when the station was still new and not many people had heard of it. To say that things have changed over the last three-and-a-half years is an understatement. With its new spot on DirecTV, WeatherNation now reaches over 20 million people across the United States, with millions more reached through digital channels broadcast through local affiliates nationwide.

With its new reach and high-profile spot on national television, I sent WeatherNation TV president Michael Norton some questions via email regarding the network’s future plans. Mr. Norton was kind enough to answer the questions in a question-and-answer format, which appears below.

1. What new opportunities does WeatherNation have now that it reaches some 20 million more people through DirecTV?

Michael Norton: Thankfully, DIRECTV recognizes the importance of delivering timely and accurate weather news and information around the clock which has presented us with many new opportunities. Their interactive platform has allowed us together to create “Local Weather Now,” a service that provides their subscribers with instance access to local conditions. This service will continue to be enhanced over the coming months to bring subscribers even more localized information. We’re also launching the Severe Weather Mix this March. This unique comprehensive service offers weather coverage leading up to, during, and after potentially life threatening weather events such as blizzards and major winter ice storms; nor’easters capable of serious coastal flooding; hurricanes and tropical storms threatening the U.S. mainland as well as major tornado outbreaks.

Overall, DIRECTV has enhanced our speed to market of our interactive features while at the same time we’ve been putting more resources into our service, investing in superior graphics software for real time weather forecasting, bringing additional meteorologists on board, and upgrading our closed captioning platform to operate more efficiently.

2. Excluding DirecTV, how many television markets across the United States receive WeatherNation through local news affiliates?

Norton: WeatherNation reaches more than 30 million U.S. homes today, so without DIRECTV it’s around 10 million cable homes. Through our expanding network of local broadcast affiliates, we are carried on digital channels and cable operators in major markets such as Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Denver as well as mid-sized markets like Little Rock, Milwaukee and Albuquerque. We’re starting to garner much more attention from new local affiliates based on our performance with those affiliates that were early adaptors.

3. As the peak of severe weather season approaches, how does WeatherNation plan to cover urgent severe weather events like tornado outbreaks?

Norton: Another opportunity that DIRECTV brings is the capability to deliver a mosaic of six channels on one screen. We realize the importance of severe weather coverage for their viewers and together, we are launching in March a Severe Weather Mix which will be activated during major potentially life-threatening weather events.  The Severe Weather Mix provides viewers six channels to choose from, whether it’s live tracking, coverage from a local broadcast affiliates, coverage from a major news channel, live remotes of meteorologists on scene, and WeatherNation’s feed. WeatherNation has a strong team of all meteorologists that broadcast 24 hours a day of forecasts and current conditions as well as delivering breaking weather news when it happens.

4. Does WeatherNation have plans to provide on-location coverage for larger weather events in the future?

Norton: We have provided field reporting in the past and will continue to do so. For instance, during Hurricane Sandy we deployed multiple reporters in the field to offer live coverage on WeatherNation. Sometimes we send our own team. Sometimes we leverage meteorologists from our local affiliates who are already on scene. Regardless, you will see an increase in our live field reporting during severe weather coverage as we move forward.

5. On a related note, are there plans to collaborate with local news stations to expand WeatherNation’s ability to provide deeper coverage of weather events?

Norton: Yes, we do that today. We recognize that our local affiliates know their cities best when it comes to the types of weather affecting their viewers. We leverage their expertise locally in their markets by featuring them on WeatherNation nationally to share breaking severe weather news from the field.

6. Are there any plans to expand WeatherNation’s website in the future?

Norton: Of course, we’re always seeking ways to improve, and the feedback we get from our viewers has been important in our continued development. One of our primary focuses is continuing to deliver a robust weather news and information service to connected devices from companies like Samsung, Roku, and Sony. This is an area you’ll see some very exciting news from us in the coming months.

7. What kind of response has WeatherNation gotten from the public in recent weeks?

Norton: Since we’ve been on DIRECTV, we’ve reached a slew of new viewers and the feedback has been tremendous. I’ll let them tell you. Here are some excerpts from viewer emails:

  • “Just started watching you guys last night when we had our first major severe weather outbreak and I am very impressed.” – Mr. Kinnane from Birmingham
  • “Weather Nation is low key and more serious but that’s what we WANT if we are looking for weather forecasts and conditions.  The WN will grow and get only better.”  – Mary Lou
  • “Just discovered WN and quite impressed. More weather—much less hype. Thank you!”  – Jeannie
  • “I applaud Weathernation and Directv for getting the red button app up as fast as they did. I can’t wait to see what is next in the coming weeks. People need to understand the growing pains Weathernation is going through so quickly. I think they are handling it great so far. Finally weather on a weather channel who would have thought!” – Michael
  • “Weather Nation ROCKS!!! It is so much more professional and what a weather station should be!!!!!” – Paul
  • “Love this new channel!” – Larada

8. Is WeatherNation in talks with any other cable or satellite providers to carry the network in the future?

Norton: We’re always seeking more carriage across the board: cable, satellite, broadcast stations, Internet-connected devices, mobile devices, and more. We’re happy to talk with all of them.

Related: Weather Channel shaking off DirecTV dispute, focusing on future

Also on Capital Weather Gang

Lake Michigan sets 41-year record for most ice cover