Between Hurricane Isaac, Superstorm Sandy, and a Christmas snowstorm, people had plenty of reason to reach for their cell phones in 2012 for weather updates. All that activity helped the Weather Channel application cross the 100 million mark in downloads on mobile phones and tablets last year.
The Weather Company, parent of the cable TV channel, announced reaching the milestone on Tuesday, about three months after CEO David Kenny disclosed the app had hit 90 million downloads at a mobile marketing conference.
“It's a big milestone for the team and the company, and puts us in an elite group of apps, especially apps that aren’t games,” said Clayton Cameron, digital division president at The Weather Company. The Weather Channel app for the iPhone and iPod was first rolled out in May 2007 and an Android version followed in September 2008. Tablet editions for both platforms have been added since then.
A new measurement of Web, mobile and app traffic by comScore in November showed The Weather Channel had a total audience of 63.2 million, making it the 20th-ranked digital property. An earlier comScore report last year indicated The Weather Channel was a top 15 mobile property (combined browser and app traffic) and top 10 app on the iOS platform.
The company boasts 38 million app users on mobile phones and six million on tablets. Last year's heavy weather help boost usage. The app averaged about some 120 million page views per day during the week Sandy hit the East Coast, only to be topped by a new single-day records of 132.4 million page views on Christmas and 137.5 million the day after.
While app downloads typically spike around Christmas as people load apps onto new smartphones and tablets, snowstorms affecting more than half the country pushed up the download increase more than usual, according to Clayton.
The app's growing audience and usage has also benefited ad efforts, with The Weather Channel's mobile advertising revenue up 40% in 2012. “It’s gone from reach and scale…with us being one of the only places to find that (in mobile), to now being also about targeting and ad formats,” said Clayton.
In that vein, the company plans to introduce new formats aimed at going beyond the bottom-of-the page banner starting next month. While he wouldn’t offer details on the new units, Clayton did say they’re referring to them as “branded backgrounds,” which would suggest some type of wraparound branding similar to what's been done online.
Despite the healthy increase in The Weather Channel's mobile ad revenue, Clayton believes marketers are still dragging their feet when it comes to mobile. “We're seeing more dollars come in every day, but I think they're still 18 months behind the user in terms of where users are and how they're using their devices,” he said.
By coming out with more compelling formats, The Weather Channel hopes to accelerate the shift toward mobile ad spending. Clayton, who also serves as global chair of the Mobile Marketing Association, noted that creating standards around mobile advertising is another key to expanding growth. “We really need to try to standardize with a single voice, ‘this is what you need to do, this is the format you need to use, this is how you need to measure.’”
While the MMA is working to bring about those changes, one thing Clayton doesn’t see changing is the predominance of apps on smartphones and tablets versus the mobile Web. “Apps are here to stay for at least the next three to five years,” he said. “We have a very robust HTML5 Web site, a huge audience -- but apps outperform it materially every month.”
The iOS and Android apps get, on average, 34 visits per person a month -- or just over one a day. That average includes about 20% of people who visit more than 20 times a day. “That's the essence of what we’ve been able to do in mobile, and in our apps -- is create these really compelling habits,” said Clayton. Hurricanes, blizzards and cyclones have played their part too.