The Weather Company Assembles Ad Tech’s Miami Heat

New WeatherFX group planning to sell ads on non-Weather properties, including TV

There’s a storm coming. Data is shifting the tides of digital advertising, buoying giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter…and The Weather Company?

Like Google with its search data, Facebook with its social data, Amazon with its purchase data and Twitter with its interest data, the meteorologist Mecca is looking to establish a money-making advertising machine around its proprietary weather and geolocation data.

Over the last year since taking over as chief executive, The Weather Company CEO David Kenny has pulled a Pat Riley and begun assembling ad tech’s version of the Miami Heat. First he hired VivaKi Nerve Center’s Curt Hecht as chief global revenue officer, who then signed Thomson Reuters ad tech guru Vikram Somaya to head the company’s budding ad tech arm WeatherFX. Hecht has rounded out his RTB all-star team with Fox News Channel digital sales vet Jeremy Steinberg, Seamless digital marketer Sara Livingston and most recently Varick Media Management strategy exec Jeremy Hlavacek, who started earlier this month.

“We do believe that our product is different and more dynamic than Facebook or Google,” said Hecht. “We fit in a very unique place where weather is as important as the social graph and search box, but we’re small enough where the product team is willing to engage marketers. It’s a sweet spot between a long list of publishers that are vertical in nature and platform companies that mean the same to everyone. We can grow firmly in the middle and grab both.”

The WeatherFX team’s rookie Hlavacek, an ad tech vet who worked on building Varick’s data management platform, is wide-eyed at the platform’s potential. “This is next level, 2.0 weather data,” he said. As did Hecht, he cited the ability to triangulate weather conditions from temperatures and locations to distinguish between an end-of-days 27-degree freeze in Miami from a spring-like 27 degrees in Minneapolis. “Then you start to think about the big Fortune 50 advertisers who have locations all over the world. How are they thinking about the change that goes on in real time as it relates to their products?”

Consider pharmaceutical marketers. Regulatory restrictions bar them from targeting ads to individuals, but they could piggyback on Weather’s data to do things like run ads in areas with high pollen counts. “Those are the things we’re thinking about on-network and off-network,” said Hecht.

That's a key point, a reason why WeatherFX is potentially kind of a big deal. This isn’t just about selling smarter ads on and The Weather Channel’s mobile apps, though that’s part of it. Notice Hecht’s title denotes he works for The Weather Channel’s parent company. WeatherFX has seats on a number of ad exchanges and in the second quarter will officially launch live campaigns on other publishers’ sites through its Extender product, Hecht said.

While WeatherFX may be the most exciting division of The Weather Company, its best known property is still a cable channel. “WeatherFX for cable is definitely on the road map,” Hecht said, eyeing this year’s Upfronts to find a couple of partners to explore the concept.

“We’ll be forward thinking in how cable and technology can [converge],” said the former Starcom MediaVest Group planner who had worked on big meaty topics like household addressability while at the media agency. “I don’t know if we need to go to household, but I think we can do a lot with geo from a hyperlocal perspective.”

What WeatherFX is building is essentially a cross-channel, buy-side platform on the level of a Google or Adobe. “The system we plan to have in place will have aspects of a trading desk, aspects of a platform and aspects of a [demand-side platform],” Hlavacek said. Somaya is spearheading the development of this software-based marketing dashboard, one that Hecht believes will be particularly valuable for retailers, airlines, auto brands and quick-service restaurants.

“That’s what they’re asking for, how to pull in all the things they do,” said Hecht who was coy about if and how it would let other ad tech companies plug into the platform and vice versa. “Vikram knows where he wants to plug in. What we won’t give away here is a bunch of weather data,” he said, echoing Google’s, Facebook’s, Amazon’s and Twitter’s protective data stances.

Unlike the actual Miami Heat, WeatherFX is pacing its run at digital advertising titleholders. “We are one marketer at a time. I told Vikram to get 10 marketers this year to appreciate this as a marketing platform,” Hecht said. Late last month Somaya toured through Seattle and Silicon Valley before heading to The Weather Channel's Atlanta base.

“If we nail three of the top 10 marketers in the world and it works, people will be knocking on our doors,” said Hecht.

Charlie Warzel contributed to this report.