Weather Channel Is Experimenting With Telling the Stories After the Storm

By A.J. Katz 

As ways of consuming TV content continue to evolve, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for networks and brands to get their message in front of the consumer in real-time. But new technologies are being developed to figure out what types of ads are indeed attracting eyeballs through the measurement of “ad attentiveness.”

The Weather Channel, one network that thrives on live viewing, has partnered with a data company called TVision Insights to find out how viewers are reacting to programming and commercials on a second-by-second basis. TVision uses small devices with computer vision, infrared technology that are placed on top of a TV, and they can track who’s in the room, when and for how long their eyes are focused on the screen. The company aggregates all 2,000 homes in its panel in getting these results.

We spoke with Weather Channel svp of programming Nora Zimmett after her Advertising Week panel which focused on this idea of ad attentiveness.

Zimmett also provided us with her thoughts on TWC’s recent ratings surge, how to keep viewers around in times of non-inclement weather, and her pitch to cable systems on why they should keep paying for Weather Channel.

TVN: What feedback did you receive at the Upfront about this idea of ad attentiveness research?

Zimmett: I think there was quite a bit of interest at the Upfront, even though it’s new. I don’t think people always appreciate that an independent network like The Weather Channel can actually win the engagement race. People think especially during an election year, “oh, it’s going to be CNN or Fox News,” but the truth is we have a brand that people trust, and I think there’s a halo effect when it comes to programming and the advertisers who come to our network. That trust has influenced the way our viewers see those brands. The research is showing that people are watching the commercials for longer and staying over the C3 more, and with that in mind, you have to draw the conclusion that the programming itself is having a very positive effect on the advertiser.

TVN: Weather Channel ratings are great right now, but how do you keep eyeballs on the network when there aren’t catastrophic natural disasters?

Zimmett: For every live news network, there’s going to be sort of the upswing and the downswing. The good news for us is there’s weather everywhere, and what we’re starting to experiment more with is telling the stories after the storm. So once the storm has passed, I think our meteorologists and reporters have proven they’re not just forecasters, but they can stay and tell a story too. We’ve decided to set up bureaus in Houston and Florida and we are going to return to Puerto Rico. Even though it’s been a month now since Hurricane Harvey, the storm is not over for the people who are still there. We have made an investment in staying there and telling the stories, bringing in new talent who are very familiar in those cities and in those locations. Our job at the Weather Channel is not just to forecast the weather, but tell the weather news, to tell the weather stories and what it all means. We know that the stories continue long after the storm has passed.

TVNThere are many ways to get the weather besides TV. You can get it on your phone, online, social media, etc. Why should cable systems continue to pay for The Weather Channel?

Zimmett: There’s no app in the world that will give you a forecast and tell you that everything is going to be OK. I’m not going to trust a bunch of numbers on a screen or a radar to walk me through what could happen to my family. That is the insurance that we provide. We have meteorologists who are analyzing the data and giving you information in a way that you can understand. It’s not just what the forecast is going to be, but we help answer questions like, “how do I protect my family?” “How do I protect my home?” “Where do I go for flood insurance?” “What do I do if I don’t have flood insurance?” Then, to be able to use pictures and video and our live augmented reality to really visualize the storm and bring people there. Look, weather is an immersive experience and it’s the one story that the audience participates in. You can’t participate by just looking at a bunch of numbers, but you can participate by watching the people you just. Jim Cantore, Stephanie Abrams, Reynolds Wolf bring you the information, and it’s why our network has been named “most trusted news brand” seven years in a row by The Harris Poll. You trust people and story tellers.

TVN: Weather’s digital properties are under the IBM umbrella, but the network is independent. Can you speak about how your network functions outside of the IBM umbrella, and with NBCU?

Zimmett: In times of storms, we actually have found a great way to collaborate with IBM. We share information. We share editorial. We share videos sometimes. The NBCU part is separate. We collaborate quite closely with them. They even simulcast us during Irma on MSNBC, and they’ve been very good to us in terms of bringing in our live reporters, our packages and videos. We have had a lovely, symbiotic relationship with NBCU when it comes to storms. The Weather Channel and IBM share a brand. We are custodians of it and feel it’s really important to protect it. It is in both of our best interests to make sure that our viewers, whether they’re watching on the linear or on that they’re getting the same quality experience and the same quality information, which is why we’re very invested in making sure to keep the partnership a strong one.