Weathering The Consumer Shift To OTT

PatternsThe Weather Channel is restructuring its TV assets, motivated by the realities of consumer demand – and what it perceives as an opportunity for live programming in mobile and connected TV.

A week after making its first real foray into TV Everywhere, The Weather Company revealed on Wednesday that it is pulling back on non-weather related original programming, which will result in an unspecified number of layoffs at the company.

Dave Shull, Weather’s group president for TV, had told AdExchanger Tuesday the network was strategically phasing out long-form content, which had been successful from a linear TV ratings perspective, but which didn’t necessarily translate to mobile.

“We will be watching viewership patterns very closely,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll get as much feedback and data on what people are watching on the web and on mobile devices over time. … My thesis is that we’ll return more to the weather and the science and the stories behind that weather, as opposed to some of the entertainment-related stuff we’ve dabbled in in the past.”

Splintering audience viewership was an obvious factor in Weather’s considerations.

The Weather Channel officially entered the TV Everywhere fray late last week when it gave cable subscribers access to live-streamed TV content across desktop, mobile and tablet devices. 

The origins of TV Everywhere date back to 2009 when cable providers like Time Warner Cable and Comcast allowed subscribers to access IP-based content using their account credentials.

Although the programmer has explored TV Everywhere partnerships in the past, its latest move scaled its authenticated footprint dramatically.

AT&T, Cablevision, DirecTV, Dish, Bright House and other cable partners’ customers can essentially sign into Weather’s service from any device and livestream content. It, in turn, receives fees from those licensing deals.

With 77 million unique visitors on desktop just last month, as well as more than 5 million on mobile web, the company closely considered its partnerships with all pay-TV distributors before it made the leap, said Shull.

“It’s turning on a big switch where you can get the live TV stream on an authenticated basis,” said Shull, a former Dish Network EVP, who joined the company in May to oversee content distribution and addressable advertising.

TV Everywhere’s most obvious benefit is to the – more ways to access content on disparate devices with a common login. But the addressable opportunity for content owners is equally great.

Given linear ratings declines, it’s practically impossible for broadcasters to justify rate hikes with advertisers, so a number are seeking hybrid solutions to mitigate cord cutting – and offer more choice.

Promising additional data and context around audience could also increase sell-in for its ad products. In Weather’s case, it has tailored hyperlocal ads based on mobile check-ins for some time now under the guise of the company’s data business, AdFX, and hundreds of millions of individuals use its TV and weather apps globally today.

The Weather Channel is also exploring new integrations with over-the-top providers, which will give it scale on more connected TV platforms where consumers are shifting their attention, as it primes its over-the-top service.

“We have 4,000 different versions of our TV channel already deployed in the US through cable partnerships, so we really want to use that hyperlocal nature to provide weather, traffic, news and information to OTT consumers,” Shull said. “Our mobile business is definitely the fastest-growing part of the company … there’s a lot of upside to mobile video growth, and authentication is one component of that.”

Although total TV Everywhere viewing rose 63% year over year, the number of pay-TV subscribers who use TV Everywhere grew at a much slower rate of 19%, according to new video benchmark analysis from Adobe Digital Index.

Tamara Gaffney, a principal analyst at Adobe Digital Index, attributed the stagnancy to inconsistencies in login processes. Although authenticated streaming gives networks more insight into viewer selections and interests, which feeds into the ads they see, the login experience can be choppy or consumers aren’t aware of what types of content they can access.

Growth in the number of mobile and over-the-top devices is also challenging due to sheer volume. For instance, when Comcast first introduced TV Everywhere to subscribers in 2009, the iPad didn’t exist.

Its TV Everywhere service was initially designed for PC streaming, but now the cable operator has shifted its focus to authenticating viewers across IP-connected devices, such as Amazon Fire, Roku and Apple TV, Matt Strauss, Comcast’s EVP and GM of video, told AdExchanger.

The Weather Channel’s current ownership recently hired bankers to explore a possible sale of the business. According to Bloomberg, it’s unclear whether Weather’s cable and digital businesses would be split as a result of the impending sale.

In a statement to media, Weather said the reason for Wednesday’s restructure was to “better align our content production and distribution with a focus on innovative models of storm coverage and strategic new products, such as our soon-to-be-launched OTT service.”


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