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Weather Channel Expands Mobile Offerings

Back in October 2004, the Mobile Media Company and the Weather Channel partnered up to deliver a three-day forecast service to mobile phones dubbed 4CAST; earlier this summer, this partnership resulted in a weeklong trivia campaign focused on hurricane season. Building on the success of these previous initiatives, last week the Weather Channel announced a news series of lifestyle alerts that offer information to consumers on their cell phones about airport delays, game-day forecasts for major league baseball games, pollen count, and the current conditions of a particular region.

While not technically streaming, these text-based messages sent via SMS represent another step in the evolution of mobile phones as a medium and as a vital component of an established media brand’s identity in this digitally-enabled world. "The Weather Channel has the dominating portal on the Internet for weather-related information—www.weather.com—and also holds the same leadership position on TV. Typically, though, consumers have to be stationary to access either one," says Steinar Svalesen, EVP and general manager for Mobile Media North America. "Through our partnership, consumers can gain access to the Weather Channel in their pocket. That’s an important part of the multichannel communication strategy of the Weather Channel.

"With any major brand, you want to capture your audience wherever they are throughout the day," Svalesen continues. "They need to have their services available to the relevant people at the relevant time through the relevant channels." Consumers tend to be accessible through a series of channels throughout the day, but the mobile phone is the one channel that they can almost always be reached through, making the mobile space particularly important for a utilitarian, informational brand like the Weather Channel.

Both the TV and Internet versions of the Weather Channel offer access to rich media content, but the introduction of mobile streaming to their multichannel distribution channel is still a ways off. "Text and text messaging is the universal medium that can be received by the most phones in the US," says Svalesen. "If you go into binary content or streaming media, distribution is more limited based on the technologies of the various carriers."

Another major technological evolution that’s almost—but not quite—there is the introduction of location-based services and advertising. "From a technical perspective that can be done today. In any cellular system there’s always a database that’s keeping track of where you are," says Svalesen, "but there are more legal issues involved like privacy issues. Since that information all resides in a system, does that consumer want all their information to be made available? I don’t mind getting promotion messages to my phone as long as there’s a benefit to me, but I need to be able to define those parameters myself."

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