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Weather Warms Up To Addressable TV Ads

It's raining data in this year’s upfront. That might present a new wrinkle for some programmers this year, but not the Weather Channel.

The network has been in the unique position of having information about how temperature, rain, snow and other meteorological phenomena affect consumer behavior for some time and has used it to advise marketers on the best times and days to advertise products ranging from allergy medicines to ice cream.

This year, Weather Channel is adding addressability to its television ad sales arsenal, something that has been available in the past via weather’s digital platforms.

“We’re very focused on data-driven TV right now and I think we’ve created some really exciting products that are really well differentiated in the market,” said Jeremy Steinberg, executive VP, sales at The Weather Co., which is partly owned by Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

WeatherFX takes the decision engine Weather Channel built to correlate information about weather conditions with non-intuitive spikes in product sales and connects it to TV the way it has already been used by the company to sell online, mobile, tablet and Twitter ads.

Weather Channel is tapping the infrastructure it uses to send local forecasts to cable head-ends to serve different ad messages in different zones.

The network is also able run ads in certain markets and not in others, based on regional and other geographic considerations.

“We can do either weather targeting or location targeting on TV. It can be one or the other,” Steinberg said. “We’re the only national network that’s able to truly go down and do zone-level addressability, which is in my mind extraordinarily differentiated from what some of our competitors can do.”

Some distributors, including Dish Network and DirecTV, offer addressability at the household level. “They have some great products. And they can do it in their footprint, which is great. But because we can do it across a larger footprint, and more homes, it is a really unique solution,” Steinberg said.

Last week, Dave Shull was named group president, The Weather Channel Television. Shull has been with Dish and will work on ad technology including addressableTV.

Another unique thing about WeatherFX is that advertisers will be able to buy the viewers only in the zones they want—for example, zones where it’s raining—and not buy in others. In some addressable applications, buyers have to buy the entire footprint and can change the ad message depending on the data they have about the people who live in different spots.

The Weather Channel thinks the ability to cherry-pick zones should command a premium price. “It will be more expensive than national but we’ll be more efficient than local,” Steinberg said. “The ability of a marketer to come to us and target local markets at a more efficient rate than buying local spot I think is a real win.”

Tracey Scheppach, executive VP/precision video at Starcom MediaVest Group, said the Weather Channel has been ahead of the curve in terms of harnessing data to deliver audiences that provide value to clients. “They are perfectly fitted for this because they have unique data that no other television programmer has and they have shown to a handful of advertiser including some of ours that weather drives sales,” Scheppach said.

And while she considers addressable to mean message delivery to the household level, Weather Channel is offering a step in the right direction. “That’s what we’re going to see the industry moving to, just buying the audiences you want,” Scheppach said.

What happens to the commercial time in other zones? It could be used for promos, or sold programmatically—Weather is still working on that, Steinberg said.

Analyst David Bank of RBC Capital, says that national TV networks are working their way toward being able to deliver highly targeted audiences, something marketers claim they want to be able to do.

“The jury is still out with respect to the overall value proposition of audience targeting in national TV for the networks,” Bank said in a recent report. “As the technology improves to meet the demand, the question remains, if the networks enable the marketers to target only the audience they want, especially in non-premium dayparts and shows, will the bulk of inventory be devalued?”

Bank says price-optimization models are unproven and there is concern that “once you let the genie out of the bottle, you can’t put it back in” because regaining pricing power is tough once you lose it.

Because Weather Channel does such a large share of its business on its digital platforms, the company is currently gearing up its mobile and video content.

“We’re making a pretty big investment in mobile video development and in this upfront we’re talking with all the major players about doing an overall video partnership across all screens,” Steinberg said. “We’ve just gotten to the point where we can offer that solution across all screens in the upfront.”

Original content will be designed specifically for the platform, with short-form being produced for mobile devices. Some, but not all, of the content will be branded for sponsors.

The network will also be pushing for better metrics. It has a research team dedicated to measurement.

“The feedback from our clients over the past year has been ‘help us prove out success. Help us achieve our KPIs, help us attribute success,’” Steinberg said. “And so we’re really focused on that. We’re also talking to marketers now in the upfront about alternative forms of measurement.”

That could mean doing deals based on metrics other than traditional age-sex ratings, or offering secondary guarantees, a move a handful of other programmers are experimenting with.

“It’s possible. It might be ratings plus something else. It’s kind of new this year for the market,” Steinberg said.

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.