The Weather Company Sees 'Record-Breaking' Programmatic Revenue Related To Hurricane Coverage

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The fearsome and punishing effects from Hurricane Sandy along the east coast the past few days has contributed to a series of record-breaking events across The Weather Company's cable and digital properties. In particular, The Weather Channel's parent company tells AdExchanger  that on Friday, the amount of ad dollars coming in from programmatic channels exceeded any other day since it started accepting such buys earlier this year.

While Global Chief Revenue Officer Curt Hecht said that the company wouldn't be releasing specific revenue figures related to programmatic buys it has received, he did say that activity reflects the new strategies and backgrounds that Hecht, the architect of Publicis Group’s digital buying and trading desk hub, the  VivaKi Nerve Center, and CEO David Kenny, his former VivaKi colleague, have brought into The Weather Company's sales operations.

"We set a record on Friday in terms of programmatic revenue and since landfall is happening right now, I assume that trend will continue through the duration of the storm," Hecht told AdExchanger. "Similarly, our video, mobile revenue via programmatic is like nothing we’ve seen to date. Part of it is embracing the exchange marketplace and knowing how to optimize against it. Part of it is the amount of inventory based on the audience flow."

Craig Schinn, VP, Reporting & Analytics for Accordant Media, confirmed the trends that The Weather Company is seeing with a regard to programmatic buying. "Through the data we have so far today, RTB impressions are up 13 percent vs. the average Monday (same hours) in the prior month," he said.  "This is well beyond the normal growth of RTB, and indicative that Frankenstorm is driving massive spikes in internet usage, and opportunities within RTB."

Meanwhile Media6Degrees reports ad impressions on Weather.com on Sunday were up 50x over the previous Sunday. (Accuweather.com impressions were up a more modest 5x). But it said CPM's were relatively flat on both pubs. And on the same day, independent trading desk Digilant measured a 4x increase in ad volume on domains including the word "weather."

John Slade, SVP of Product Management at Rubicon Project,  told us that Rubicon's marketplace of premium inventory has seen significant shifts in advertiser spend that are likely attributable to the marketer's interest in reaching audiences interested in or affected by Hurricane Sandy. Naturally, sites in the "news" category are in high demand from audiences and the advertisers who want to buy them.

"As you know, the traffic increases combined with the advertiser spend shifts can result in immediate revenue opportunities for publishers," Slade said. "However, it's important to remember those opportunities are not without risk, as publishers need to be very sensitive with regard to the types of ads that run on their sites in highly sensitive times.  A poorly placed ad, such as an ad promoting tourism in Atlantic City or an ad promoting flood insurance, could easily damage a publisher's reputation with its consumers.  Therefore, it's important for publishers who may have advertising opportunities related to Sandy to ensure they are working with a technology partner who can ensure they are helping protect their brand from ads that could be found offensive in these particular times."

The amount of online activity and focus on portable devices and digital platforms like social media led The Weather Channel to rebrand as The Weather Company a few weeks ago. But the relationship between the company and its advertisers and viewers, especially those who turn to the cable channel and its mobile and web-based versions, is what appears to be coming together at this moment. Being a known quantity that tends to specialize covering events like Hurricane Sandy also helps The Weather Company not overplay the disaster and alienate consumers.

Among the content decisions The Weather Company made in advance of the storm was to live-stream its cable network's video on YouTube for the first time. This afternoon, a live feed was launched on Yahoo's homepage. Advertisers were ready for the moment, just as The Weather Company was ready with a fuller multi-platform strategy. On top of the mobile app and web-usage that has been growing, with a great deal of thanks from its My Friend's Weather, which is a collaboration between The Weather Company and Facebook. The social media tool uses Facebook Connect to bring Weather.com users to Facebook, so the social network's members can share info about their own meteorological situation.

Here's some stats The Weather Company supplied to us:

  • Live stream – 5MM total live video stream starts between The Weather Company's live stream on weather.com, YouTube & wunderground.com; 165k concurrent users (that’s almost the same as the network on a typical day), and over 1.2MM hours streamed -- 50 percent of those traffic numbers are occurring on weather.com, the other 50 percent are on YouTube.
  • TV – On TWC, Saturday’s preliminary time period data for P25-54/Total Day points to a 500%+ gain over quarter-to-date levels.
  • weather.com - Today (Monday) is shaping up to be the largest in history on weather.com. As of 7pm on Monday, the site has registered 20oMM pageviews. The site's previous record was scored during a colossal snowstorm in Feb. 2011 with 144MM. The site was on pace to hit 300MM by late Monday night. On Sunday, weather.com saw 105MM page views (the fifth highest page view ever) and 40MM video streams (#1 all-time video day). Top 10 day for daily visits and visitors (21MM and 14MM, respectively)
  • Mobile web – #2 all-time page view day with 16.3 million (behind last year’s “Colossal storm” on 2/1/11 – 17 million). As we saw with Joplin and Tuscaloosa last year, mobile activity on web and apps is likely to pick-up further if there are power outages.
  • Mobile and tablet apps – #1 all-time day for page views (109 million page views) and #1 all-time day for video starts (1.6 million video starts) across mobile and tablet apps combined
  • YouTube stats – Stream began Sunday evening, and it is a homepage spotlight on YouTube in the U.S. As of this morning, there had been 1MM playback starts, 20,000 peak concurrent users, 141,000+ hours streamed with an average view time of 8.5 minutes. I just checked it, and there have been almost 7 million video views – and 65,000 viewers are watching it live right now.
  • My Friends’ Weather on weather.com: As of this morning (Monday) – 80,000+ authenticated users (users who have signed in through Facebook on weather.com to see who of their friends are affected by the storm). Uptick started Wednesday and really took off on Friday – new authenticated users by day saw three successive record highs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday

One other advantage The Weather Company has during a disaster like this is that each of its platforms reinforce usage of the other. In turn, that inspires advertisers to be ready in advance and increasingly, in real-time.

"In the cable upfront every year, there are marketers who know that these severe weather events are very important to their respective businesses," Hecht said. "Therefore, when something’s about to hit, they’re ready to go, they’re budgeted. That’s one variation that we see. That will typically be insurance, home improvement, retail and power supply companies like batteries and generators. They know us, we know them, as we’ve been around for 30 years."

For those that don’t want to commit and take it on the fly, programmatic buying is an easy option. Hecht wouldn't identify individual marketers buying programmatically, but he did say the marketers tended to be in the core categories mentioned above, with travel-related advertisers also buying in real-time.

"We’re pulling higher ratings right now as a result of the storm, so if those marketers want to deliver on their media plan, it’s a good opportunity to buy that audience that has shifted to us and away from their regular viewing habits," Hecht added. "On the digital side, if you go to Weather.com, you’ll see Traveler’s and Duracell wisely bought My Friend’s Weather. Both of them are benefiting from a record event in pageviews on our site and apps. What’s interesting here is Facebook and Weather Company coming together to provide the same level of public service that we have traditionally provided through cable TV."

Zach Rodgers contributed. 

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6 Responses to “The Weather Company Sees 'Record-Breaking' Programmatic Revenue Related To Hurricane Coverage”


  1. Doug Weaver says:

    I'm taking the risk of alienating a client company with this comment, but right is right and I need to speak up. No question there's a certain level of technical achievement here, and I know that Curt and David have made large bets on the future of programmatic for The Weather Company. And I'm sure that behind the closed doors of a boardroom or in a confidential memo to investors it may well have represented a significant business case study and an important supporting plank for how they intend to build the company. But...

    There is also a certain callousness in the bloodless discussion of business gain at the cost of human suffering. We've not even gotten a final count on the number of people who died in the storm or how long homes will be without power -- that is, for the homes that are not damaged beyond repair. A little too early for comments like:

    “We set a record on Friday in terms of programmatic revenue and since landfall is happening right now, I assume that trend will continue through the duration of the storm."

    or

    "Frankenstorm is driving massive spikes in internet usage, and opportunities within RTB."

    or

    "Therefore, when something’s about to hit, (marketers are) ready to go, they’re budgeted."

    I have tremendous respect for The Weather Company and the people who work for them on air, behind the scenes and in media sales and support. It's a brand I trust implicitly at the worst of times. That brand just took a hit, and for what purpose? Taking a public victory lap while the track is still wet was a bad call.

  2. David Kaplan says:

    Hey Doug,

    I completely understand your concerns, and please let me apologize if you were offended by the piece's tone and focus.

    As someone who had family directly in harm's way in southern Brooklyn -- and I am also in the Brooklyn -- I was naturally cognizant of the possibility of seeming crass and trivial at a moment of a terrible disaster.

    I can't speak for The Weather Company/The Weather Channel and Curt Hecht and David Kenny, but I can tell you that they were absolutely concerned as well. I focused only on the impact of programmatic advertising because, although it may have seemed a little too soon, it was something that marketers and consumers of weather news were dealing with.

    I merely wanted to show how significantly things have changed when it comes to the business of supporting this kind of content and how marketers and content companies can be sensitive and yet still relevant at the same time.

    I don't think the idea of programmatic buying in this case is exploitative or that The Weather Company is strictly considering the bottom line and not the personal toll that their coverage is concentrated on. At the end of the day, the question of "how does all this get paid for?" was my focus.

    Again, if anything in this piece was over the line, it was entirely my fault and I ask the forgiveness of anyone else who thought this was handled inappropriately.

    -dk

  3. Doug Weaver says:

    David, your explanation is helpful. Let me respond and elaborate a bit. In no way do I suspect that financial considerations drove the way that the Weather Channel or Weather.com covered the storm. I have no doubt that they covered the story and provided the information people needed in a timely and professional way. Your point about the financial support for extended coverage is well-taken, and would have been a good case study for a later time.

    It is, of course, easy for me to play Monday morning quarterback. But I still do question the point of TWC releasing so many stats and engaging in the discussion about monetization just hours after the storm hit. Back during the summer of The Wall Street Journal's online privacy series, I blogged about the need for all of us to get out of our digital bunker and start choosing our words with care. Do I think Curt or David or anyone at TWC doesn't care about the people of the Northeast? Of course not. I just think they -- and AdExchanger -- chose the wrong words to tell the wrong story at the wrong time.

    That said, I remain a huge fan of AE and TWC. If I weren't, I'd never have taken the time to write these responses.

  4. Annonymous Ad Tech Exec says:

    To say that media isnt in the business of exploiting disasters is un genuine, its practically all that media companies do Doug, they exploit human suffering for private profits... You may not like that fact but that's the way it is. If it bleeds, it leads....

    Of course it was financially advantages for Weather.com/channel to cover the storm... They are in the business of covering storms. They are not a non-profit or a public service, even if they make their money off of the technologies created for and data gathered and distributed by the US Gov. Which makes them a private, commercial service built on public money... but that's a different thread altogether

    The fact that Weather.com weathered their increase traffic and that the infrastructure built for just that purpose worked, is very pertinent to those in the biz. Perhaps you should step away from your personal feelings ad address this as an objective professional. For if you dig deeper into the reasons behind your feelings, you could find yourself incapable of supporting almost any advertising technology or methodology due to ethical and moral breeches that drives the entire business.

    • Bob says:

      I similarly would not have released a story like this for risk of how it would come across.

      However, anonymous, while the reality is that when bad things happen certain services and products are in high demand (in this case weather news and information, batteries, canned goods, bottled water, blankets, diapers, brooms, gas containers...), this is not something that most businesses feel particularly good about. If Procter & Gamble or Lowe's have better quarters as a result does not mean they will comment "And thank goodness for Sandy...really made our quarter! Business in NJ and on Long Island was great!"

      To suggest that "practically all that media companies do [is] exploit human suffering for private profits" is not only disingenuous but an extremely callous and jaded view of how most media companies run their businesses. Americans also vote with their wallets, and if they felt businesses were run solely with profit motives at the expense of doing the right thing they would rapidly go out of business.

      Anonymous, did you watch any of the media coverage of Sandy over the past week? Did you feel you were getting bombarded with ad break after ad break (I saw none)? Sending reporters out all week and maintaining news coverage practically 24/7 is hardly low cost - it would not surprise me if this week's events actually HURT the bottom line for many media companies, as many pre-empted their primetime programs to keep the local news coverage, without ads, running, for the benefit of those of us looking for information as to how things were going and what we should do or could do to help.

      The NYTimes, too, took down their own restrictions on free articles per user in order to ensure access to news and coverage (which are since back up). They are not exactly a company making tons of money these days...actually they lost money last quarter. http://www.google.com/finance?q=NYSE%3ANYT&fstype=ii&ei=78GWUPDUHcjD0QGNfQ

      Also, if you really feel "almost any advertising technology or methodology [is driven by] ethical and moral breeches" (this part actually makes me laugh) why are you in the ad tech space yourself? I'm in that space and I LOVE what I am doing: helping content producers find ways to continue providing good content during a dynamic moment in the evolution of how people consume media. If I were focused on maximizing my own income I would be in a different industry.

  5. Alejandro says:

    On a slightly different note, I was surprised to see how many advertisers were "on-air" during the storm. Barring advertisers in certain verticals, I would've thought that few would be willing to have adjacency to the terrifying images associated to Sandy. So, in a way, I'm surprised that revenue was so high during the catastrophe...I wonder how the ads that did run performed.

    To clarify, I don't mean this comment to sound callous, in other words, I'm not merely speculating as to revenue and profit during a cataclysm. I am questioning advertisers' willingness to associate their image to media that is being consumed by users in distress.

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