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The Weather Channel Hardcover – May 2, 2002
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In 1982, Frank Batten flipped a switch and began what he called "a weather forecast that will never end." There's probably no better emblem of niche media than the Weather Channel and its super-specialized field of interest. After 20 years of mapping high-pressure fronts and covering hurricanes, however, "We have built one of the strongest brands anywhere in the media business," writes Batten, former chairman and CEO. Most of The Weather Channel concentrates on all the problems Batten and his media company experienced in the early 1980s when they hatched their idea for all-weather programming and struggled to get it on the air. "I'm sure that we tried to do too much, too fast," says Batten, who nevertheless endorses the too-much, too-fast approach: "I'm convinced that if we hadn't acted as aggressively as we did--if we hadn't spent the money, rushed down the road, and pushed ourselves and our partners ... The Weather Channel may never have been." Batten concludes by discussing the future of weather predictions (they're going to get a lot better, he thinks) and offering unconventional advice to aspiring media tycoons (don't offer stock options to employees). This book will appeal to aficionados of isobars and other weather events, as well as readers interested in how to start a thriving business. --John Miller
From Publishers Weekly
With the recent spate of books documenting the failure of hundreds of Internet startups, it's refreshing to read about the successful launch of a business in what was once a fledgling industry itself: cable television. The Weather Channel was born on May 2, 1982, less than two years after Good Morning America weatherman John Coleman brought his idea about a 24-hour channel dedicated to nothing but weather to Frank Batten, then chairman of Landmark Communications. In his comprehensive account of the channel's history, Batten details the many financial, technical and management obstacles the Landmark team overcame to get the service on the air and keep it there until it became profitable. As documented by Batten, the Weather Channel reached its low point in mid-1983 when, racked by losses, Landmark came within days of shutting down the operation, only to be saved by the cable system operators who agreed to pay subscriber fees to keep the service running. Given some breathing room, the Weather Channel steadily improved its programming and technology and, as Batten acknowledges, rode the wave of the explosive growth of cable television to the point where in 2000 the Weather Channel generated revenues of $320 million and attracted millions of loyal viewers. While the Weather Channel encountered some stormy times, its ultimate success proves that a sound business concept, hard work and a little luck can turn an idea into a national institution. Batten's book offers valuable business lessons that many entrepreneurs can learn from. 23 color photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Though the impossibly modest author almost paints himself off the stage altogether, you will also meet one of the most decent and admirable executives in American business, Frank Batten. Because Mr. Batten's company is private, almost no one knows of this remarkable man. Although he's reticent about himself (a life-threatening and life-altering cancer that occurred at the time of the Weather Channel launch is dismissed in a paragraph),you'll understand how lucky the citizens of Norfolk and Greensboro have been to have him in charge of their newspapers the last 40 years.
This is a book about business, not weather. But if business interests you at all, it's a hell of a book.
The most fascinating parts of Batten's story are the tales of how TWC came to be in the very beginning, from the early company history, to the initial concepts and business plans of the late 1970s and early 1980s, to the 1981/1982 start-up, to the birthing pains caused in part by a messy corporate divorce with one of the founding partners. The book also provides an interesting glimpse into how the cable TV landscape was first settled by pioneers like HBO, ESPN, WTBS/CNN and, of course, TWC.
The latter half of the book deals with many of TWC's forays in the 1990s, including the highly-successful weather.com website, as well as several international ventures). But the final chapters lack excitement or drama.
The book has 264 pages, and it's not a hard read. I think the same story could have been told more effectively in about half the space, leaving out many of the details. The authors of this book focus almost exclusively on the TWC dealings and strategies at the corporate and operational levels. A better story could have been told by weaving in more perspectives from other TWC people, namely the on-camera meteorologists, some of whom have been with TWC since the very early days. Combine the best elements of this book (the first half of the story, in particular) with a real 20 years of "behind the scenes", and you'd have a compelling tale that would appeal to audiences beyond the book's target audience (TWC die-hards, business students, weather and media professionals).
Finally, the book provides 16 pages of full-color photos, but none appears to be older than 1998. Why didn't the authors add photos from the early days? Those of us who have been TWC fans for many years would have appreciated seeing some of the old faces, old graphics, and old technology that have made The Weather Channel the familiar and trusted friend it is today for millions of people.
Despite its flaws, I recommend the book for those who are interested in TWC specifically, or in the media or weather businesses in general.