Q+A: David Kenny, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Weather Channel Companies

KennyFrom cave painting to kindergarten to the world’s second hottest app, The Weather Channel’s CEO explains why people never tire of the daily forecast

When David Kenny made the leap earlier this year from cloud operator, Akamai to a storied role on Yahoo’s board to the CEO’s desk at The Weather Channel, you could almost hear people in the industry saying, “The Weather Channel?” But for Kenny, a self-described data geek and technology junkie, twc is all that and more. As he explains, there is no data more important to human beings than the weather, and TWC has been one of the earliest innovators in figuring out new and better ways of bringing it to people. Armed with that base, he says he’s going to do what he’s done best over his years on the “buy-side” and the platform-side, helping to engineer “transformation.” It’s the same playbook he used to transform a mundane direct response shop into the jewel in Publicis’ digital crown, Digitas. Now let’s see what he can do as a publisher.

You’ve gone from a business that operates the cloud to operating one that covers clouds. Why?

Akamai was a great experience. It enabled me to learn the technology at its root. But I’ve always loved audiences, and I’ve always loved creative expression, and kind of reinventing media --  mostly from the advertiser’s side before --  so to me, it was an opportunity to be in the flow I’ve been in since Digitas.

That’s interesting, because if we look over the course of your career, you’ve done almost everything except operated as a publisher before, with the exception of your role on the Yahoo board. What’s it like?

First of all, it’s a very special publisher. What I like most is that everybody uses it. I mean, it’s the second most downloaded app of all time, and that’s because everybody needs it. The weather is such a seminal topic. I love the fact that it’s so useful, and that we are reinventing ways to help people access that. And of course, I love that it’s still very important to advertisers, and I think we give them a unique platform with data and targeting and rich content .

Technology has always been important here. It’s not your average cable channel. It always needed new technology, because it’s the only cable channel that has to broadcast every 10 minutes by ZIP code, and that takes infrastructure in the cable system that you wouldn’t have to have for anybody else. If you put it all together, I think it’s a great mix of what I love: technology, publishing, data, audiences, content and advertisers.

But what’s it like to switch gears after being on the buy-side for so long, to suddenly be on the sell-side? Looking at your background, you’re kind of like the perfect storm coming into The Weather Channel, no pun intended.

Don’t worry, I’ve already heard every Weather Channel joke you can imagine. Lots of things attracted me to this, but at the core, I love the energy of it. I love the fact that you get people for a big chunk of the day, and that you have to be using that time wisely -- on three screens that is creating a real-time experience for people. It’s a living thing, and I like being able to steward and shape something that’s living, and not all canned, that matters to people in the moment. I love it as a user. I’ve been a fan of the channel for 30 years. We do have room now to do more creative, long-form programming, particularly in the evenings. I love the fact that we have this mobile/local platform that everyone else is dying to build. I love the fact that we help people plan their weekends, and that can lead to all sorts of conversations. And unfortunately, when things do get tough, I love the fact that we’re just scratching the surface outside the U.S.

What do you know coming in, given all you know about the buy-side, the advertiser-side, the broadband supply side, that you could do differently with the product you have now?

Well, I’ve inherited a great team here, but I think I have a good eye for transformation. Here we have a great cable channel, and a leading app, and a strong Web site that can be transformed to be more of a utility for people every day. They can begin longer conversations. While 168 million people use us every day, they use us for a short amount of time. I want to bring them more value. Even if they use us twice as much, it won’t be taking up much more of their day, and it will make the rest of their day more useful.

What’s your favorite Weather Channel app or content?

You have to love the apps that run on the tablet, because they are just so rich. And you can forecast with them, which is really important to so many other decisions you make -- what to wear, where to go -- based on the weather. Because we can now do that for you on the Internet and on the tablet, and because z is beginning to do some reality shows like "Coast Guard: Alaska," we're also very entertaining. It’s reality tv for men. There are a lot of men on these shows who are out there braving the elements. It’s inspiring. I like the stories.

On one hand, your content is part of our environment -- and available elsewhere in other forms. But your organization is also very much a transmedia storytelling platform now. Have you thought about how that will shape your content going forward?

First and foremost, our job is to give people a read on the weather, and the best forecast, and there is a science to this company that is indisputably the best forecast. What some people may not know is that we have a B-to-B division that is doing the world’s forecasts for most of the major airlines, for most of the big energy companies, and any commodities trading in which weather is a factor. And weather is a pretty seminal story. I mean, there are weather forecasts drawn on caves thousands of years ago. It’s some of our most important data.

Most kindergarteners in America begin to learn with the weather, and it’s the biggest conversation in the world each day. And weather leads you to other topics. The 10-day forecast leads you to planning this weekend, and the next one. It leads to whether you are going to say inside this weekend, or book a restaurant or go to a movie theater, where you might want to travel, and even fashion. Helping people build all their lifestyle decisions based on weather with live programming is a real opportunity. And not just nationally, but personalized on the Web site. And I think you will see the Web site evolve to become more useful to people in connecting them, maybe, to other Web sites. And maybe even to other advertisers.

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