David Clark is thunderstruck by the rock-star treatment he gets when he tells people where he works. The new president of the Weather Channel expected that kind of excitement when he worked at MTV. “Coming from the music world, I didn’t quiteexpect the same level of passion, but it’s there,” Clark says. “In certain cases, it might be more.”
Clark is fortunate. It seems he’s always had jobs that make him feel like the luckiest kid in the world.
Growing up in the tiny town of Roxbury, Conn., Clark wanted to be an astronaut. “Once I realized there was math involved, I started looking at other things,” he says. When it was time for college, he had two criteria: It had to be in a big city and it had to be somewhere warm. He went to Tulane University in New Orleans and studied international relations. After earning his degree, he hit the road, backpacking abroad and teaching English in Japan.
“Back then, you couldn’t just text your parents or email home. You were really off the grid,” he says. But the experience was important. “New Orleans is eye-opening, but Japan was really eye-opening,” he says.
Clark started his career at IBM, then landed a job at Simon & Schuster, which had an educational sitcom called Family Album. His assignment was to fly around the world in coach, licensing the show to broadcasters. “I was like, I cannot believe I got this job. It was like handed down from the heavens,” he says. Clark started an Internet company but then got back into the media business with MTV, landing a job doing global integrated marketing deals.
After meeting the founders of Skype, he returned to the Internet business, launching Joost, which aimed to bring premium video to the Web. At that time Apple had just acquired episodes of Desperate Housewives for iTunes. For a short time, Joost was hot, earning investments from CBS and Viacom. But the premium video business turned stormy. “You don’t really understand the strength of television until you try to disrupt it,” Clark says. Ultimately, Joost could not compete with Hulu in what turned out to be a winner-take-all game.
Clark then hooked up with Madison Square Garden Co. “If you’re going to live in New York City, it’s about the most fun place you can work,” he says. He was appointed general manager of MSG’s Fuse, which struggled as a music channel overwhelmed by MTV.
“Fuse was a network that needed a reason to be,” Clark recalls. “We rethought it, and today it’s positioned as a music-news network, almost an ESPN for music. And as television networks go, it’s scrappy,” he says.
Brad Schwartz, senior VP of programming and operations at Fuse, worked with Clark at MTV. Schwartz was running networks in Canada when he got a call from Clark about working at Fuse. “I loved working for Dave and I sold my house, packed up all my belongings and moved back to New York,” Schwartz says. He adds that Clark’s strengths include both devising a sound strategy and knowing when and how to execute it. “He’s enthusiastic,” Schwartz says. “Anything he’s doing is the greatest thing in the world. It’s infectious. He makes everyone else believe in it, too.”
When Clark got the call late last year about an opportunity at the Weather Channel, it was hard to resist.
“This has got to be the most fascinating opportunity in media right now,” he says. “You’ve got a TV network with a huge digital presence, you’ve got the TV network with this localized infrastructure—the only one that I know of— and you’re covering subject matter that will never go out of fashion and is becoming more and more interesting to people and important to people as the climate changes.”
The Weather Company needed someone to run its TV channel. CEO David Kenny says a search turned up several candidates, but Clark emerged as the best fit.
“[Clark] told me about his own engagement with our product. He’s a very active guy and spends a lot of time outdoors, and that correlates well,” Kenny says. Clark’s background at music channels also created advantages that were not originally obvious. As with music channels, “some [viewers] come to us for 10 minutes a day and some come for an hour. Being able to understand how to program for different lengths of engagement with us was key,” Kenny adds.
When Clark started at the channel last November, he was greeted by Superstorm Sandy and jumped into the network’s coverage. The whirlwind has barely died down since. He spent much of a family vacation in Jamaica earlier this month working on the network’s April 29 upfront presentation to ad buyers in New York.
A self-proclaimed science geek, Clark says job one at Weather Channel is focusing on being “insanely great at the weather, and to be sure we’re communicating it impactfully.”
Kenny says he has been impressed by the way producers, on-air talent, operations and technical people have responded to Clark. “They find him bringing the best out of them,” Kenny says. “What’s been nice to see is how many people, including some real veterans, have really blossomed with new leadership.” After office hours, “all sorts of people have wanted to have him over and take him out to dinner. The guy’s definitely been working long hours, because every morning I hear about someone new that he had dinner with the night before.”
All the activity has left Clark with little free time. He spends what time he has with his family, who will be moving from New York to Atlanta over the summer. A shutterbug, Clark has been learning nighttime and underwater photography and would love to figure out how to shoot lightning storms. And he still enjoys travel. “I look forward to a day when my boys are a little older and I can take them around the world and show them what I saw,” he says.
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette
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