First Mover: David Kenny

The Weather Channel's new boss on helping people plan for everything


Age 50

New gig Chairman and CEO.

Old gig President and director, Akamai Technologies

You’ve had sort of an interesting couple of years, moving from an agency trading desk, VivaKi, to a tech company, Akamai, to a traditional media company.

Well, the Weather Channel’s not so traditional. It’s very much a digital company and a cable company. We have the second-most downloaded app on the iPad; 68 million people use it just on mobile. People want this information at all times. This move is a very natural follow-on. My long-term love has always been audience and people who need information and people who use new technology. This was a great chance to get back to that.

What did you learn at Akamai that most digital media folks might not know?

I learned how the Internet works, which is why I was well-suited to the Weather Channel. There are 12,000 cable and phone companies that connect around the world. Akamai builds the software that connects them. Weather is unique in that it’s the only cable channel that broadcasts locally. We need a higher level of technology. Our boxes actually live within the whole cable system. So it’s great to understand both the science and content.

What’s your take on the agency business these days? It’s perennially described as flawed or in transition.

There’s more than one kind of agency. Creative agencies continue to use every possible interaction with a person to move a brand. On the media agency side, it is becoming more technical and tool driven and less clout based. It used to be about buying in bulk. Now that the market is getting more complicated, you actually have to be a lot more sophisticated in how the market works. The challenge is, the margins are thin, and it’s hard to invest in this technology.

Weather’s digital properties are like page-view machines where people are constantly checking forecasts. Is your biggest challenge engagement, i.e., getting people to stick around?

I’m focused on delivering value to people. Why do people check the weather? To plan their day. In the morning, they’re figuring out what to wear, whether to take an umbrella, whether they’ll have a traffic delay. Later in the day, people begin to plan their weekend. People come to us and they might need to buy a movie ticket or go to Open Table to make a restaurant reservation, decide if they want to go shopping this weekend. Work indoors or outdoors around the house. And people plan vacations and look around the world for locations. So we’re the starting point, in a way, for planning your life. We need to figure out how to bring content to you that helps you go further in your planning and directs you to other sites that can help you. We’re also inherently local. People start with their ZIP code. Local content is very important to us as well.

Your company’s been famously anti-ad network. A few years ago you guys rolled out a private exchange. Has that worked? 

I don’t think we’re really running a private exchange in the way I think of it. They are part of the fabric. My focus is increasingly our audience and our share. To do that, you have to work with the market in many different ways. Ad networks are important. Sometimes you work with the marketing in a premium way, sometimes you work in a non-premium way.

How are you liking Atlanta?