Big storms attract a lot of attention at The Weather Company’s offices. But among the executives, one data stream commands even more excitement, rain or shine: the company’s swelling digital video revenue.
With its massive online audience, Weather is looking to digital video to drive much of its growth this year. The 45-person online editorial team, led by former Huffington Post executive editor Neil Katz, has 15 full-time video staffers, a group that pumps out around 15 original videos a day in addition to the videos it clips from The Weather Channel TV station. While digital video advertising only represents “a small portion” of the company’s revenue today, it’s one of the fastest-growing segments of the business, according to Jeremy Steinberg, Weather’s head of sales.
Across its digital properties, Weather.com and Weather Underground, it racked up more than 101 million unique visitors in February, according to comScore. A substantial portion of those visitors watched at least one Weather video. On desktop alone, the company drew more than 13.2 million unique video viewers that month. (ComScore didn’t have data on the company’s mobile video viewership.) With such a large traffic flow, Weather focuses on monetizing video across its owned and operated sites and apps rather than on YouTube and other video platforms where it has to share its advertising revenue with Google or other partners.
“We’re blessed that tens of millions of people come to us every day to check weather data, so that’s an awesome opportunity to bring them into phenomenal weather news video, great viral video in nature, and have a real experience to get them to stay with us a lot longer,” said Katz, editor-in-chief of Weather.com.
While some of that video is directly related to the weather — one video on the Weather.com homepage Wednesday afternoon addressed a typhoon moving toward the Philippines — much of it is what Katz calls “weather adjacent.” He’s referring to videos on nature, travel, science and the environment, as well as newscaster bloopers and other viral fare.
Those clips come in particularly handy during slower weather, which accounts for 250 days of the year. The video titles scream “click me!” A few gems on the Weather.com homepage Wednesday afternoon include “They Were Driving, Then Tree Explodes” (20 seconds), “An Unexpected Threat?” (43 seconds), and “How A Cooler Bedroom Helps GOOD Fat” (36 seconds). While that viral content strategy may irk some visitors, it hasn’t scared away marketers.
“The Weather Company is one of a handful players that really can offer a true 360-degree ad experience [across television, desktop and mobile] at a relevant scale” for media buyers, said Darcy Bowe, vp director of video at advertising agency Starcom USA. “If someone chooses to watch this content, and we’re the pre-roll ahead of it, and we can do data targeting to understand who is watching to serve an appropriate ad, that’s really what’s enticing. We’re not focused on the big ‘Watch this’ banner.”
While most of its videos are less than a minute long, they feature aggressive pre-roll video advertising. This 36-second video on what happens when lava meets ice, with footage captured by Syracuse University, served up a 30-second pre-roll video ad for a new Starz series on Wednesday afternoon. This 12-second time-lapse video of a storm served a 15-second pre-roll ad for Domainr, a domain-registration service. That can be frustrating for viewers and advertisers alike.
“Shorter creative lengths tend to perform better with shorter content,” said Bowe. “As a buyer, we want to ensure an optimal user experience and would consider creative length as a consideration for where we’re placing our ads.”
The Weather Company has experimented with longer, higher-quality video for its digital properties. In August 2014, in collaboration with Telemundo, it premiered “The Real Death Valley,” a 29-minute documentary that investigates the migrants dying from extreme heat and drought on the Mexico-U.S. border. That digital-first project ended up appearing on The Weather Channel television station, a migration that is happening more regularly with the company’s digital video projects, according to Katz.
The company still has some work to do optimizing its mobile site for video, admitted Katz, as Weather typically gets twice as much traffic on mobile as desktop. “I don’t think it’s cutting-edge today, but it will be very soon,” he said. “That’s a very important part of the audience for social and search, and it’s also an important piece of the puzzle for us internationally.”
But even without that mobile optimization, that company already has massive video scale. Last year, it served up 1.2 billion streams strictly on its owned and operated properties, according to Katz. And it expects an even bigger total in 2015.
“Video revenue is critically important to our business,” said Steinberg, the company’s head of sales. “The company has been investing heavily in video, and we are going to be investing substantially more.”
Main image courtesy of Weather.com