Weather Channel Sold to NBCU

Meteorologist Vivian Brown broadcasts from Weather Channel studios in Atlanta. Landmark Communications Inc. has sold the channel to NBC Universal and two private-equity funds.
Meteorologist Vivian Brown broadcasts from Weather Channel studios in Atlanta. Landmark Communications Inc. has sold the channel to NBC Universal and two private-equity funds. (By Chris Rank -- Bloomberg News)

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By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 7, 2008

NBC Universal and two private-equity funds have purchased the Weather Channel, the companies said yesterday.

NBCU, owned by General Electric, partnered with Bain Capital and the Blackstone Group to pay about $3.5 billion for the cable channel and its associated properties from Landmark Communications, the Norfolk-based media company that launched the channel 26 years ago. The purchase price was confirmed by a source close to the deal who spoke on the condition of anonymity because terms were not announced.

The Weather Channel is one of the most widely distributed on cable: It can be seen in 97 percent of all U.S. homes, which translates to about 85 million monthly viewers. The Weather Channel's Web site, Weather.com, draws about 40 million monthly unique viewers, the companies said.

Weather enthusiasts have made stars of the channel's meteorologists, including Nicole Mitchell, Alexandra Steele, Paul Goodloe and Jennifer Carfagno, all of whom can be seen on numerous fan Web sites. Admirers of the affable Dave Schwartz have set up a fan site, Daveschwartzweather.com. And several fan groups of Weather Channel personalities exist on Facebook, including one set up to protest the firing of former meteorologist Paul Kocin.

The Weather Channel personalities were not specifically mentioned in yesterday's release detailing the sale, but NBCU said that the Weather Channel will remain a separate entity, operated by NBCU management.

"This will further position NBC Universal as the leading provider of news, information and weather, both online and on television," NBCU President Jeff Zucker said in yesterday's statement. "Joining with the Weather Channel properties plays to our strengths in developing and programming cable networks, and in producing and distributing high-quality content across multiple platforms."

NBCU envisions crossover opportunities for its on-air talent, with Weather Channel personalities appearing on NBCU channels and vice versa, the source said.

Weather.com may actually prove the more valuable acquisition for NBCU, which began a process nearly two years ago to convert itself to what it calls "NBCU 2.0," slashing heavily from its broadcast television side to bolster its online presence. Weather.com is typically among the 15 most-viewed sites on the Web.

The Weather Channel almost never got off the ground when Landmark owner Frank Batten was trying to create it in the early days of cable. "Who will watch 24 hours a day of weather?" Batten was asked by skeptical cable company owners. But the cable carriers needed programming and gave Batten's channel a shot. The channel had a "near-death experience," Batten wrote in his 2002 memoir, but was saved by "the unexpected willingness of cable operators to pay a fee for our service." Along with HBO, the Weather Channel would become one of cable television's biggest success stories.

"We deeply appreciate the terrific support that the cable industry has provided, both at our creation and throughout our development, and we look forward to a smooth transition with NBC Universal, which has a great track record in building and growing high-quality news and information businesses, and its partners," Landmark President Decker Anstrom said in the statement.

Landmark owns the Norfolk (Va.) Virginian-Pilot and the Annapolis Capital, among other papers and television stations.


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