Lowdown On The Upfront: Weather Channel Sees Fair Winds Ahead

At The Weather Channel, the time for spending big bucks on proprietary research demonstrating how effective an ad on the channel can be is over, after four such studies the past four years.

“In this year’s upfront, we’re switching a little bit,” said Paul Iaffaldano, executive vice president and general manager at TWC Media Solutions, the channel’s TV and new media ad-sales unit. “We’re going to build off of that. We’re going to explain why we’re a more impactful place to advertise.”

Reports done for media buyers Publicis, Group M, OMD and IPG have helped change the perception of The Weather Channel beyond just a cable network that doesn’t have big ratings and doesn’t inspire people to watch for long periods of time. Instead, viewers tend to watch it for shorter bursts with more intensity, Iaffaldano said in an interview with Multichannel News.

As a result, viewers remember the ads on The Weather Channel more, 24 hours later, than they do even watching the same ads on other programmers, according to Iaffaldano and The Weather Channel Cos. president Debora Wilson.

“What Nielsen said was, when people watch The Weather Channel, they need to remember the forecast,” Iaffaldano said. Rather than leaning back, “you are in lean-forward, remember mode. And that applies to the commercials as well.”

He said in last year’s upfront auction, the channel enjoyed a “huge” rise in ad-sales revenue and significant gains in cost- per-thousand impressions, or CPMs. (Specifically, a 13% revenue gain and 8% CPM increase from 2006.) “Basically we want to expand on last year’s strategy since it worked so well for us.”

He wouldn’t reveal figures, but said reports from Nielsen and others peg Weather’s overall cable and online ad sales revenue at about $350 million last year.

In the 2008 upfront auction – where Weather does about 65% of its overall ad sales – channel officials have a three-prong strategy.

The first prong is to tout the engagement factor cited above (to the extent that Weather has championed minute-by-minute ratings during ad pods).

Secondly, the channel wants to talk about its significant investments in programming, including high-definition shows such as newcomer When Weather Changed History, and Epic Conditions and Weather Ventures.

Weather programming is one of those genres that really benefits from the enhanced display possible on the network’s HD simulcast service, currently in about 3.5 million HD homes, Wilson said.

Local- and national-forecast radar maps tell a viewer much more when he or she can see the city names better, gauge the topography and see through those green blobs moving across the screen, Iaffaldano said.

Storm coverage, too, benefits greatly when viewers getting the HD picture can see the environment surrounding the wind-blown correspondent or see the ice storm’s impact during night-time remote broadcasts, Wilson said.

In the second quarter of this year, Weather’s plans to introduce HD broadcasts from the field, a feat that’s a big challenge for a national network that needs to get those HD signals back from remote locations, she said.

The third new emphasis is on cross-platform capabilities, Iaffaldano said. Weather.com’s revenue accounts for about 40% of overall ad revenue, compared with single percentage points for most cable networks, the executives said, citing data that has been published by Nielsen Monitor Plus. For Weather, mobile-phone ad sales account for about 2% of the total – comparable in relative size to other cable networks’ online sales, the executives said.

In general, Iaffaldano and Wilson said they were quite optimistic about cable networks’ upfront ad-sales prospects.

Audience share continues to move toward cable from broadcast networks, Wilson noted. Cable networks have a quality card to play as well. “Look at all the innovative programming that’s being created for cable,” Wilson said.

Despite time shifting and online-video watching, the 30-second commercial is still the king of mass media advertising, and that doesn’t figure to change soon, Iaffaldano said.

And as local commercial inventory shrinks during the political campaigns – and as local ad rates go up and advertisers seek national alternatives – “frankly I still see demand growing faster than supply,” Iaffaldano said.

“It could be a sea change year,” Wilson said.

As part of the channel’s new approach this year, Weather is planning a March 13 evening upfront “event” to show off its new HD shows and properties such as Forecast Earth, the global-climate-change series the channel recently expanded to an hour each week. 

Sales typically get done at one-on-one meetings, not at upfront programming events, Iaffaldano said. “But you need to do the big event because you need to raise your profile in the industry,” he said. “You need to do both.”

 For more coverage of the advertising upfront selling season, click here.