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Kelly Named New CEO at Weather Channel

The Weather Channel has appointed former AOL Media Networks chief Michael Kelly as its new CEO. The Weather Channel Companies, as it is officially known - since it embraces web and online assets - is backed by a combination of Blackstone Group, Bain Capital and NBC Universal. The partnership had been searching for a chief executive since the departure of Debora Wilson in February.

Kelly was most recently an advisor to private equity fund Veronis Suhler Stevenson and was president of AOL Media networks from 2004 to 2007 where he oversaw acquisitions including and Third Screen Media. Before that Kelly had been president of global marketing at Time Warner. His deep knowledge of the digital space and connections with advertisers were a big draw for the company board. The new president and CEO starts on August 10 and is moving from his home in New York to the company headquarters in Atlanta.

Kelly's lack of TV experience did not appear to be a barrier to his hiring. "I've been in jobs involved in just about every platform and in cross marketing and media initiatives...cross platform will be the platform." Kelly explained, "I watched the Weather Channel this morning and then I looked at it on my blackberry because I'm taking a flight tonight, that ability eludes many companies," he said explaining the importance of ubiquity. "For the consumer it's about making sure you have your information available to them on every platform they choose to get it from. What makes it a media business is aggregating and creating value from it."

"I won't pretend to be a TV executive, having NBC as part-owner is a huge resource in terms of promotion and integration." The company recently hired Geoffrey Darby as executive VP programming. A separate person suggested there was some internal debate between NBC Universal and the private equity partners about whether to go with an executive whose primary experience was in TV or someone with more digital expertise.

Throughout the near six month search NBC Universal's Lisa Gersh, president of strategic initiatives, has acted as interim chief executive. In March, it looked like the three parties had agreed on former CNBC CEO Bill Bolster. That didn't pan out after Bolster negotiated a pay package that was viewed as excessive, according to a New York Post article. Gersh will remain on the Weather Channel's board once the transition takes place.

Other names surfaced in connection with the position, including former Discovery network president Billy Campbell and more recently former Fox Entertainment chairman, Peter Liguori, who is said to have turned down an initial approach.

Since acquiring the Weather Channel in a $3.5 billion deal with Landmark Communications last July, the partners have been retooling the service. The channel had previously been much more focused on straight weather forecasting. The partnership is trying to broaden the programming to encompass storytelling around the subject matter and extend into long-form shows - one way of getting viewers and advertisers to stick around.

The TV channel announced last week it would air a new hourly show featuring the Today Show's Al Roker between 6.00 a.m. and 7.00 a.m, before his daily NBC shift begins. One change at Weather Channel online will be a much more aggressive sales pitch.

In a brief interview with B&C, senior managing director of the Blackstone Group, Michael Chae, said Kelly was a, "fantastic representative in the media space generally and specifically in the digital media world and the ad community. Those are all extremely important elements to Weather Channel's success."

One of the key selling points of Weather Channel is its ability to localize a national ad message via a cable head-end technology called Intellistar.

Chae continued, "The real opportunity is cross platform. When you think about the growth areas of media, there are three; the web, mobile and cable. Executing cross platform is the key. This is about as strong an asset that exists and it does so by taking advantage of that opportunity."

The Weather Channel is in 99 million households and attracts 41.5 million unique viewers a month, according to the company. Five million people have also downloaded the company's iPhone applications.