Sunny Outlook for NBC Initiative

Feb 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Three months after its first rollout in New York, NBC Weather Plus, the 50-50 digital platform partnership between NBC Universal and the NBC Affiliate Board, already is proving it can be the way to a quick, if modest, return on an investment.

WNBC-TV, which launched its Weather Plus on Time Warner and Comcast cable in New York last November without fanfare, is not minting money, but it was in the black from the get-go with the endeavor, which became an additional resource during the blizzard of January.

The station put up less than $150,000 worth of equipment to start up the service locally. Local advertisers who signed on early-and defrayed that cost-included Lake Placid Ski Resorts, White Face Mountain, Hackensack Medical Center, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and Golf Digest.

In the next several months NBC Weather Plus will be offered by NBC-owned or -affiliated stations representing some 60 percent of the country. Stations in those markets will have to make a modest investment in start-up equipment. However, NBC executives said the advertising and distribution outlooks for the service are so good that the other markets are likely to turn a profit as well.

“I’m sure we’re going to make a success of this,” said Roger Ogden, senior VP of Gannett Television and previous chairman of the NBC affiliates board. Gannett-owned WKYC-TV in Cleveland and KUSA-TV in Denver are launching NBC Weather Plus this week.

WXII-TV, the Hearst-Argyle-owned station in Winston-Salem, N.C., is scheduled to launch NBC Weather Plus in March. That effort is going to be “cash-flow-positive from the day we sign on,” said station President and General Manager Hank Price. The advertisers who already are on board all seem to appreciate “getting in on the ground floor,” he said. At least one of the original advertisers in Winston-Salem has signed a multiyear contract, while all the others are on board for at least a year and expect a price hike the second year.

“It seems to be striking a chord with advertisers,” said NBC Universal Television Stations President Jay Ireland.

National advertisers participating so far have included Gore-Tex, General Electric and Dell.

The 24/7 Weather Plus accommodates a variety of ways to package live weather information, with emphasis on local data and dollops of national data delivered by either over-the-air digital signals or on cable operators’ digital tier.

Even without federally mandated carriage of local stations’ digital offerings, NBC and affiliate executives said, Weather Plus is likely to appeal to cable operators because it offers a reason for subscribers to upgrade to digital. Cable operators also can sell commercial time in it.

The Weather Plus format is structured around the so-called L-bar, a vertical bar on the left side of the screen and a horizontal bar on the bottom that constantly scroll coordinated weather data from as many local areas as a station chooses to include. The remaining portion of the screen can showcase radar images or the local station’s meteorologists’ forecasts.

Terry Mackin is the Hearst-Argyle Television executive VP who as head of the NBC affiliates’ futures committee helped turn the Weather Plus concept into reality.

He has lobbied for digital must-carry, describing NBC Weather Plus as just the sort of “big idea” the Federal Communications Commission challenged broadcasters to develop with their local digital spectrum.

After the FCC vote against guaranteed carriage last Thursday Mr. Mackin said, “Needless to say, we’re disappointed. In the meantime, with Weather Plus, we’re demonstrating for viewers the kind of valuable, helpful and important local content we can provide using portions of our spectrum.”

Weather Plus now has its own board of directors and managers. Mr. Ireland chairs the board, which includes Mr. Ogden; Belo media operations President Jack Sander; Marci Burdick, senior VP of broadcasting and cable at Schurz Communications; NBC News President Neal Shapiro; Doug Holloway, president of cable investments for NBC Universal Cable; and Ardyth Diercks, president and general manager of NBC-owned WTVJ-TV in Miami. Mr. Mackin and Mr. Burgess are observers on the board.

Day-to-day management and operational rollout of Weather Plus is being handled by newly appointed VPs Michael Steib and Jordan Hoffner. The Weather Plus board named Jeffrey Thein executive producer of the network.