No forecaster … no problem

Mar 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

With companies trying to cut costs and at the same time keep up with the pace of technology, national weather service WeatherVision is becoming an important solution for a number of U.S. television stations.
Jackson, Miss.-based WeatherVision broadcasts customized local weather forecasts to 50 stations across the country. Current clients include WB, Fox, UPN and PBS stations, and in May WeatherVision signed a deal with Pax to do customized weather for individual Pax stations around the country. The deal also includes doing a national weather forecast that is about 21/2 minutes long. That forecast is already being broadcast each day to 25 Pax stations and 90 cable channels in those markets where Pax programming is on cable. The weather inserts are also part of Pax’s programming via DirecTV and EchoStar’s DISH Network.
WeatherVision forecasts cost a station between $25 and $100 per day, depending on market size. Service packages can include several weather reports per day, which are often 30 seconds each, since it’s easier to sell a 30-second spot next to weather cut-ins of that length.
Forecasts for less
The cost is low because WeatherVision gets to sell some inventory as well and has little competition, if any.
“It was like barter syndication; it had never really been done that I’d ever seen,” said Edward St. Pe, the meteorologist who founded WeatherVision in 1991. “I wanted to build some kind of network, and the only way you can do that is exchange advertising for the programming. When we started doing this, nobody did this. Every major weather company out there has tried to buy us. The model is more of a broadcast syndication model as opposed to weather for cash. The deals we do today are cash and barter. We keep the cash low because we do take some spots, and the onus is on us to sell spots. For the most part nobody does exactly what we do.”
Mr. St. Pe started working in 1981 as a meteorologist for NBC affiliate WLBT-TV, Jackson. Later, when he was at CBS affiliate WAFB-TV, Baton Rouge, La., his former news director, Carlton Cremeens, allowed him to do weather on the side for six radio stations in that market. The gig grew to 20 stations in Louisiana, so Mr. St. Pe decided to establish a base of operations. He bought a radio station in Jackson, where WeatherVision is currently housed. By 1990 he had three radio stations operating from that building and did weathercasts from there for about 100 radio stations in the Southeast. Later he sold the stations but kept the facility and went back into television by buying a satellite uplink for $600,000. He built a TV studio and hired three more meteorologists.
“We were doing weather for radio stations and we were selling advertising inside the weathercasts, unlike most weather services,” Mr. St. Pe said. “My feeling was that the concept would work where we could do the same kind of model for television-a centralized weather service. The Weather Channel does a national feed for cable; we do individual custom weathercasts for various stations with our meteorologists.”
One of the first stations to subscribe to WeatherVision’s service was PBS affiliate WKNO-TV, Memphis, which is still a client today. WeatherVision subscribes to the National Weather Service. WeatherVision’s facility has Silicon Graphics computer workstations tied to a satellite dish downlink, and all of the weather data from around the country comes into that satellite dish. The meteorologists take the data and interface it with custom weather graphics for each station.
“It’s amazing as far as the level of customization we can do with a station,” Mr. St. Pe said. “In the past it was Fox, WB and UPN stations that didn’t do any news. Now even CBS stations and NBC stations think they can save money by bringing us in to do morning cut-ins inside the `Today Show’ or perhaps the noon or weekend weather. There are some niches opening up now because of the economic situation.”
While the WeatherVision concept may not work for large market stations that are talent driven or in markets that may have duopolies in place, smaller market stations are signing up.
NBC affiliate WMGT-TV, Macon, Ga., is the only network affiliate in that market without news. It launched WeatherVision cut-ins at the beginning of the year, taking two 30-second weather spots that the station airs six times a day. WMGT General Manager George Jobin said it took just two days for the spots to be sold out for the rest of the year. “What this does for us is make us look like a news station again-there’s nothing more important for people around here than weather,” Mr. Jobin said. “I’ve got nothing but high praise for WeatherVision.
Mr. St. Pe’s next step is to strike a deal with a major station group to do perhaps morning and noon weather cut-ins. “We could save them millions of dollars a year,” he said.
Eventually, Mr. St. Pe would like to expand WeatherVision to include Northeast and West Coast bureaus.