The Weather Channel's Tom O'Brien on the Evolution of America's Most Trusted TV News Network

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Cover image for  article: The Weather Channel's Tom O'Brien on the Evolution of America's Most Trusted TV News Network

"If you don't like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes." Mark Twain's famous quote could also apply to the fast-changing TV business. Despite all the current media disruption, one brand has remained Harris Poll EquiTrend's TV News Brand of the Year for an unprecedented nine years in a row: The Weather Channel.

A September Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey showed that 72 percent of Americans think catastrophic weather is more severe now than it was in the past. The implication is that they're looking for a trusted source for weather updates — especially when extreme weather is in the forecast. But is having a strong cable TV network brand in a high-interest topic enough to succeed when consumers are accessing news and information in new ways and on new platforms?

MediaVillage spoke with Tom O'Brien (pictured at top), president of The Weather Channel, about how the network is building on its unique positioning and legacy to thrive in today's dynamic media environment.

Michael Smith: How has The Weather Channel remained the most trusted TV news network for so long?

Tom O'Brien: I think viewers value how we cover a topic so vital to everyone's lives in an accurate and factual manner, especially in an era when people are more concerned than ever about significant weather events and trust in much of traditional news media has declined. Our weather experts and meteorologists are the best in the industry. They have a deeper understanding than any other news and information provider about weather and how it impacts viewers lives.

I also think people value how we continually leverage new forecasting technologies and innovative production techniques to tell the complete weather story.

Smith: What drew you to The Weather Channel, after a career in both the local TV station and national cable news network business?

O'Brien:One of the key reasons I was drawn to The Weather Channel is its mission. It's not often in your career that you get to lead a company committed to protecting and saving lives through the efforts of an amazing team of experts. Plus, The Weather Channel team is unique for a media company: We must be great journalists and scientists, along with being technology innovators.

Smith: People have convenient access to weather information from more sources and devices than ever — from phones to smartwatches, to smart speakers. Why is The Weather Channel still needed?

O'Brien: Television remains the best way for an audience to receive the most complete and up-to-the-minute weather information, particularly in severe weather situations. One of our meteorologists put it best recently when he explained that, while you can always go to the grocery store for the ingredients, you'll always need an experienced chef to put the entire meal together to create a five-star experience. Mobile apps and smart speakers can provide basic stats like temperature and chance of precipitation, but our team of experts tell the complete weather story in ways that make it most relevant to your life.

Smith: The Weather Channel has been in business for 38 years. How do you make the brand relevant to younger audiences?

O'Brien: The way weather is presented in most of television hasn't changed for decades. It's still mostly people standing in front of maps. But younger audiences who've grown up with video games and other interactive media expect a more immersive experience. We've ignited a revolution in weather presentation with our Immersive Mixed Reality (IMR) experiences that take viewers inside of weather environments to educate and inform. Our hyper-realistic weather segments have included important, lifesaving information on everything from the realities of storm surge to destructive tornadoes, devastating wildfires, and deadly ice storms. In 2019, The Weather Channel won a News & Documentary Emmy for its IMR segment depicting the dangers of a tornado.

Smith: Is The Weather Channel a news network or a lifestyle network?

O'Brien: I think we're both. We provide breaking news information about critical weather events that [are] important to your immediate safety, plus we give you the information you need to plan your everyday events with friends and family.

Smith: Cord-cutting is impacting all traditional legacy cable networks. How is The Weather Channel reaching people on new platforms outside of the traditional pay-TV bundle?

O' Brien: Not only have we expanded our distribution on our traditional MVPD partners, but we also have expanded our distribution to OTT platforms. As the streaming wars shake out, we believe weather content will always be a must-have.

The Weather Channel is on several vMPVDs and we have a dedicated OTT streaming service called Local Now, powered by content from The Weather Channel and industry leading content partners. Local Now delivers real-time, hyper-local news, weather, traffic, sports, and lifestyle information through unique technology that streams localized information to 230 markets across the United States. You get the same information seen in a 30- to 60-minute local news broadcast segment, on-demand and in a fraction of the time.

Smith: Tell me about your new Quibi partnership?

O' Brien: For a growing number of people, the smartphone is the first-choice device for weather information. Quibi is aiming to be the top destination for premium smartphone video, so it makes perfect sense for us to be their exclusive daily weather content provider. We'll have a show in Quibi's Daily Essentials section featuring short-form globally relevant weather and forecasting stories with our cutting edge IMR storytelling. We're all about reaching people whenever and wherever they want trusted weather content — and we're looking to engage with younger, more digital audiences and continue to build our relevance across new demographics and platforms. Quibi can help us achieve both.

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