Monday, September 21, 2009

Who Wouldathunk?

A week or so ago, Frank Batten, a media icon died.. You may not have seen the obituary but for sure you have seen his progeny. The network he launched is seen in most every home in the nation and has become a staple of our everyday lives. No, it isn’t one of the “big four” broadcast networks. Not PBS nor any of the all news channels. HBO or Showtime it is not. Mr. Batten launched The Weather Channel.

The Weather Channel, now taken for granted as a respected and vital source of information, was the source of ridicule and jokes in the early 1980s when it signed on from modest digs in Atlanta. Late night commedians joked that his next channel would be the “Time” channel.
The early years of the operation proved less than profitable and there were several times that cash flow almost made the service go dark. The problem was that the cable systems needed to provide carriage of this and other niche services were just getting off the ground so viewers and sponsors were as scarce as a Typhoon on the Ohio river.

Today The Weather Channel is seen by millions every day and is the second most viewed cable service right behind TBS. In fact, before his death Batten sold the company for more than $1 billion and most recently the channel changed hands again for the tidy sum of $3.5 billion paid by General Electric, owner of NBC. Now you know why they want you to “Wake up with Al.”
Many of us start our day looking at the channel on TV or online. Should I start the grill or is that yellow blip on the radar going to wash out our party? I bet I can get nine holes in, the rain is still near Indianapolis. Either of these sound familiar?

The growth of the Weather Channel is indicative of the sweeping changes in television and other electronic media. It gave rise to a plethora of other targeted services like DIY, The Food Channel, HGTV and any of a dozen “history” channels. It led the way for TV channels to move from targeting general audiences to offering content to an audience with a specific need and interest.

So perhaps Bob Dylan was wrong when he sang, “You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.”

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