Interview Date: December 5, 2001
Interviewer: Rebecca Lim
Collection: Hauser Collection
Note: Audio only available for this interview
LIM: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
WYNNE: I grew up in Virginia, born and raised, went away to college, went to Princeton in New Jersey. Went to law school at University of Virginia. Came back thinking I would practice law the rest of my life, did it for a few years. Got recruited to go to Landmark when I was young and have been in the media business ever since.
LIM: What was attractive about Landmark to you?
WYNNE: Candidly I enjoyed practicing law. It was interesting in terms of the analysis and so forth, but there was a lot of repetition in practicing law and it didn’t have as much opportunity to lead people and work with people and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed more entrepreneurial kinds of things and you don’t get much of any of those things in the practice of law. So it was pretty obvious to me that I wanted to get over into the business side. Landmark happened to be in town and they happened to come to me and ask me if I would come and join the firm. So I was lucky.
LIM: Did you have any entrepreneurs in your family background?
WYNNE: Yes, my father was a self made guy. I mean, his parents didn’t have any wealth and he was a self made guy. His mother died right after he was born and so he pretty much had to do it on his own, didn’t get to go to college. He turned out to be an automobile dealer and so he was a very nice success on his own. So that’s certainly entrepreneurial. Because he gave me the opportunity for education and all that sort of stuff I had more opportunity than he did.
LIM: What were some of the ways in the early days that showed ways to grow and move forward?
WYNNE: Frank Batten Senior is really sort of the modern day founder of Landmark. He’s no longer active but he was my mentor for the full time I was there and he really built the company from a local company with a couple of properties – newspaper, TV and a couple of radio stations – into a more national company. We’re private so we’re not large by many standards, but then what he’s done over the years is about every decade he would find a significant new opportunity to get us into. So we did Telecable, which is a cable operating company. Back in the ’60s and ’70s we did a community newspaper division where we’d find these rural papers and take them up to more current papers, even some dailies. We did that in the early ’70s. At the very beginning of the ’80s we did The Weather Channel and in the ’90s we’ve done a company called Trader that we joined venture with Cox Enterprises. Each of those has been very, very successful. So in addition to that, we bought some other media properties along the way so that we have a few newspapers and a few TV stations and those kinds of properties.
LIM: How did these different empires work over the years?
WYNNE: Well they evolve. You know, it’s a funny thing. I’ve read about this going back a long time – when radio came out it was going to be the demise of newspapers. When television came out, that’s it for radio. When cable came out that’s it for… and actually what has happened in every one of these instances is the pie has simply been fragmented more. Now some businesses have a faster growth curve and some have more of a tailspin so they start losing market share. But what you find in general is that people to this day have had an enormous appetite for different kinds of delivery of information and entertainment and so they like all of the various media platforms that have been out there. It’ll be interesting to see with new technology whether that will continue to be the case and whether some of these existing media will decline more. There’s another factor working when you went from mass media- which is what everything was to very, very tailored, targeted media, which is available increasingly now with technology. And people are being more and more satisfied with targeted media. So you as a company you need to be able to follow that evolution. We’ve done that essentially. They’ve evolved more towards targeting the specific needs of individual segments and over that time also, instead of one reader, one viewer, there’s been an enormous amount of knowledge on segmentation and trying to differentiate your products to attract certain kinds of audiences. That’s been fun. That’s been the growth of the business and it’s been very exciting to see how all that’s occurred.
LIM: How did you manage to straddle different media?
WYNNE: We tried to pick up emerging trends. We were never the first in any of these categories but we tried to see emerging trends. We like businesses that tail wind behind them. The truth of the matter is if you can catch a rising tide, you know, you can really make some mistakes and still come out pretty well. God knows we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. So we were lucky enough to get in some great categories and get some great people working on the projects and to have credibility with our customer base and we’ve been very fortunate. But that was our strategy – to have a diversified approach to media.
LIM: How did you know a weather channel would work?
WYNNE: You know, it’s funny, there were only a couple of us that knew in our hearts that it could work and that was Frank Batten Senior and myself. There really wasn’t another member of our board of directors. There were skeptics everywhere. But I’ll tell you what we thought and we were pretty convinced of it. I mean, we look back today and what we went through, you sort of laugh at it but I had been in television and we knew that in the late news, the 11:00 news, weather was always featured last because it kept viewers until the very end of it. So obviously that had as a product element had a lot of appeal. Same thing could be true of our cable systems. We used to have this primitive low camera that would go over dials that would talk about wind direction and wind fall and stuff like that. I mean silly stuff. There was a channel devoted to it in many, many systems that had weather activity, significant weather activity. So the combination of those two things told us that if we would do this right and offer people weather when they wanted it and offer them their local weather at the same time which was the key to the whole success of the thing. National weather by itself wouldn’t work. We thought that over a time people could develop a new habit. And make no mistake about it, it was a new habit and we knew it would have to take some time. It took a little longer than we thought but we were pretty well convinced that that was interest in the subject matter. It took four or five years for it really to take on but since then it’s been a staple I would say in this country.
LIM: How did you achieve such a top brand?
WYNNE: A lot of luck. I mean, just to be candid about it. In the first 10 years of our success, the brand represented what we were and so it described what we were. A very few brands really do that. And so in a sense it was a no-brainer for people. Some people call it The Weather Station or The Weather Channel. It really described what it was. And, you know, when you look at all the words like A & E or the acronyms CNN unless you knew that meant Cable News Network, which it might not or even ESPN. Very few people know what that acronym means. So acronyms and abbreviations tend to represent things over time. It’s a harder thing. So ours represented it in the first place. Then frankly, Mike Ackert who was running The Weather Channel for us brought in professional marketing people and they really got it. They started to really make us do a lot of market segmentation, talk about all the attributes we wanted in terms of what we wanted this brand to represent and how we could consistently provide value, , and differentiate ourselves behind that brand. So over the last decade we got pretty sophisticated about it and we now feel like we have a pretty good knowledge base about what weather consumers by group want and how we can meet their needs. And so, that’s why we do deliver weather frankly across so many platforms now. I mean, cable is still our mothership but as you know we now take that, and out of a common digital database, and try and distribute across lots of platforms so people can get weather under our brand anytime anywhere. If they’re in their home, they’ll get The Weather Channel.
LIM: What kind of social impact have you had on weather watchers?
WYNNE: Well it’s matched up with sort of the style of what people have wanted in the last couple of decades, instant gratification and they want it when they want it exactly. So that part helped us as we went along and as people figured they could get information from us that in fact would allow them to make better decisions that too. That was the habit I was talking about. It takes a while to really understand that. It took a while for us to understand that we could package it for them so it really would be useful. Socially, you know, I don’t make a lot out of that. I don’t think we’ve changed the world or anything. I think we’ve made it a little safer. I think we’ve made it so people are more informed about the subject. As a consequence lots of people watch us to find out how their kids are doing in a different community or how their parents are doing on the trip they’re taking or what the weather’s going to be in New York two weeks from there if they’re going to visit. So a lot of it is convenience that relates to your own personality needs. That’s why a lot of us read newspapers. I’m a newspaper junkie I read four newspapers everyday and I just have a need for it. And a lot of people have need for weather information. It enhances their security. Their sense of well being, their sense of their family’s well being and planning their activities. And then in serious weather, which is really when we shine I believe and our people are just doing a magnificent job. We take that subject very seriously in terms of trying to protect people, give them advance warning. Let them do the things that would minimize damage if there is something that’s going to occur.
LIM: What happens with the emergency system?
WYNNE: Yes, our ratings vary by the severity of weather, there’s no question about that. And, at times of hurricanes or tornadoes or really serious weather of any kind, even earthquakes, even though that’s not a weather phenomenon, people tend to look at us to see what’s going to be surrounding all of it. Hurricanes are a good example. In this year we had a lot of hurricanes, none of them made landfall and so the question is how do you handle that? And we’ve always tried to be honest and not hype the information. It would be very easy to really scare people. On the other hand if you understate too much people aren’t prepared. And so drawing that line is not an easy thing to do. We’ve tried to work with the professionals around the, the world who are predicting weather to understand the best way to do that. And as it comes to serious weather warnings on hurricanes, we have pretty much followed the National Weather Service. We’ve prompted them an awful lot to get out and make changes in their forecast when they weren’t ready to do it and so forth because we saw trends that they weren’t seeing and that sort of thing. But, you know, everybody was trying to do the right thing. When serious weather happens I think the weather community in general joins arms and is trying to do the right thing to help people. The last thing anybody wants to do is try and hype it. I remember there was going to be a terrible snow storm. You remember that last winter? And we were called in for it to go right up the northeastern corridor across maiden cities. Well it happened, it was just 60 miles to the east, so it didn’t hit those major cities and we took some flack that we had missed the forecast. And in fact we had. It was as accurate a forecast as anybody could give, but that’s the nature of this business. I mean, it’s an art rather than a complete absolutely science and you use science or you do the best you can and that fact I think also keeps people’s attention because they know it’s not, you can’t give 100 percent guarantee of almost anything unless it’s raining at the moment and you’re predicting rain. So I think the thing I’m most proud of here is how they do handle themselves in serious weather. I mean, the weather’s the star and we don’t overstate it. We want people to be prepared, we want to be a little extra prepared but we don’t want to try and scare people. That’s not the right way to be responsible.
LIM: So it’s not hype.
WYNNE: You asked about our brand earlier, , the weather is the star in this network. You know, we have some sensational on air people who could work anywhere but we from the first day did not want to have superstars that would dominate. We wanted to have people that were comfortable to come into your living room, wherever you watch television and that you would be comfortable in, in listening to. That you trusted, that you believed and they were communication the weather which was what you were there for. And so, that same philosophy carries over into all of the other segments. Severe weather or regular weather or whatever you, what, what have you. And that’s part of the credibility. You can you know, the recent events of the last couple of months, of course. Everybody has their own opinion on it but some people feel like some of the information has been hyped. That’s not good you lose credibility when people think they’ve been hyped and so it’s very important for us to be conscientious about that.
LIM: Weather is a very personal part of people’s lives.
WYNNE: Well the subject, the key thing there that’s interesting is it’s always changing so it’s a dynamic, much more than a lot of other things are. I mean, a news event, news is always happening and changing, but as you know news really mostly happens during the day. You don’t have a lot of news activity at night because events aren’t happening. Well weather’s changing all the time constantly. And so that gives us a natural subject to talk about.
LIM: How did you find the balance for your viewer?
WYNNE: Oh, I think trial and error if the truth be known. I mean, a lot of our people here have great ideas about how to do these things. I think the thing you have to do is be careful that you don’t stray away from your sticking to your knitting and what your customer really wants from you. So as an example if we stopped doing local weather, in my opinion we would have strayed away from our franchise and that would be a mistake. If we stopped dealing with severe weather in the way that we do when it was up, that would be a mistake. People would start to dismiss us. Our brand wouldn’t mean the same thing. Their usage of our service would not be as valuable. So there are times in day and in times of weather activity where you can do more of the informational educational kinds of things that will enhance the overall experience, but you have to pick your spots. And so our folks have been experimenting with it for a long time and they seemed to have struck about the right balance. We do constant research on this to be sure that we’re staying on track and but we seem to be doing that, you know, recently we do a show called Atmospheres which is a long program, that’s very different than anything we’ve done before. And our ratings are about the same, slightly better than if we had just the weather programming. It seems to attract a little different audience. One that learns a little bit more because of what we’re presenting to them. And it doesn’t seem to interfere with what people are expecting from us. So, those kinds of experiments we’re continuing.
LIM: What kind of a role has technology played for The Weather Channel?
WYNNE: Yes, when you’re dealing with data, as opposed to entertainment, technology matters a lot. Mostly when people are watching entertainment they want the long form. We’re dealing with bits and pieces of information that can be repackaged in any number of ways across platforms to make the experience that much more relevant and enjoyable for people so we don’t have long form programming. We can break ours up into anything that is really relevant for a segmented audience. So to really take advantage of our subject matter, we need to use technology. So you go back to the beginning and we did this thing called the star, which allowed us to do the local weather and at the same time we could tag national advertising to that local market. So dealer associations, franchise people and so forth would put in their local tags behind. Let’s say there’s a Ford commercial and the local Ford dealer could put up call such and such at Kemnock Ford or whatever you had at your local location. But most importantly what it allowed us to do is localized weather and that was critical to our franchise and to getting started. Now over the years, we’ve gone through a number, I think we’re almost in our fifth generation of stars now and then we move into the digital world, it was all analogue for a long period of time. And so it’s changing . So that, as it relates to The Weather Channel has continued to be enhanced. You mentioned interactivity. You know because we’re a data center we are going to go into one common database, digital database that can be accessed from any platform that we’re trying to use to communicate information to anybody, anywhere they exist. Or want our information. And so technology is critical to us in all of those various aspects. I mean, you know, as you know we’re, we’ve experimented and part of almost every pilot project that exists on interactivity, wireless, I mean, you name it, we’ve tried to be there. As a learning experience and also to extend our brand. I mean, some of these, we’re hopeful that everyone of these will be a business success for us, but it’s too early to tell about some of these things. , but technology is absolutely critical to us. I mean, it’s a funny story. In our naiveté when I told you we didn’t know what we were doing with the brand in the first decade. Same thing’s true of technology. I came out of broadcast. We were broadcast engineering. We weren’t IT we were broadcast engineering and then all of a sudden we had some bright people come with us saying no you’re not, you’re information technology and you better realize it and start acting that way. And we did and so in the last five or six years we’ve really ramped up dramatically in that regard and, and, and thank goodness because we’re almost too late figuring that out. But, information technology is absolutely essential to our long term future.
LIM: At some point you had to figure out what the customer was really after.
WYNNE: Absolutely, I mean, we’re doing a fair amount of, of, a fair amount of our expense is R and D just as you would describe and that’s atypical for cable networks.
LIM: That’s why I brought it up.
WYNNE: I mean, some cable networks would do it, where they try and do genre programming to see if it would stick and if it worked you could argue that’s R&D. In our case, we felt the need to, from all the feedback we got from our customers we need to be on every technologically enhanced platform that’s available and our customers want it because when they’re in front of a T.V. They want to watch The Weather Channel. When they’re in a car, they want to get it in a different way. When they’re out in the woods, they want to get it in a different way, when they’re whatever. And we need to be able to provide it to them and it’s just part of the critical aspect of the brand and meeting our consumer’s need.
LIM: How has weather.com affected your on air brand.
WYNNE: We had a big debate in here. During one of the transition periods I was down and running The Weather Channel. And we had a big debate internally about that. And whether to separate it and give weather dot com its own separate staff so it could really compete with The Weather Channel and I’ve always had the attitude you have to do that otherwise you’re going to hold something back. And if you don’t do it somebody else is. And so we did separate it. And at the time people were really worried that it was going to cannibalize The Weather Channel. It didn’t. What it did is brought another whole group of people into a realm of exposure to our brand and how we could provide benefit and it really has just expanded our world and we haven’t lost any ratings as a result of it. Now I can’t tell you that when we get into broadband and video delivery five, 10 years down the road that some of that erosion won’t occur. And so we’ll have to reposition our various platform so they’re always differentiated and where the viewership wherever they are or usage wherever they are hadn’t had one drawn out on us in terms of the major network. And its expanded our credibility to be candid with you so.
LIM: There are still many applications we don’t understand yet.
WYNNE: And neither does anybody else that’s in the business that can, that really is telling the truth. I mean, we’re all out there trying to figure out what consumers are willing to pay for that is valuable to them and it’s unclear because there’s so much out there and so many options and people are not going to use a dozen devices. I mean, they’re going to shrink this down to something that makes sense for them. So the truth is we don’t know and as a consequence we’re going to be everywhere until this does rationalize itself and gets smart. Now the interactivity through the cable set top box is a pretty powerful thing. And we see that as, as an emerging tool that’ll be pretty significant. Wireless is going to be pretty significant. The business model on how we make money with wireless is not clear. Inner activity there, there are some ways we could say outweigh to do pretty well there. But the honest truth is, it’s too early to know how we’re going to rationalize each of these as an ongoing business enterprise. They’re all R&D while we’re trying to figure that out. But it’s critical to us as I said as part of our branding.
LIM: How did you get such great penetration in the early days?
WYNNE: Fortunately I didn’t have to explain it to the guy that owned the company because he [???] to the idea that made a big difference. And he, in fact, he was right there with us from the very beginning in all this, he was the one that was originally enamored with the concept from the very beginning. Remember I told you we had a company called Telecable. Telecable had a very good reputation among the cable operators. It was a peer to the others and we had a number of people inside of there. Dick Roberts and Gordon Herring particularly who were highly regarded in the industry. And we had credibility because of them to tell you the truth. I mean, we weren’t well known but Gordon and Nick Worth and Dick Roberts and lots of people at, at Telecable helped us figure this out. In fact it was they, they were the ones that gave us the idea about the localized weather and how we had to do it and they really helped us enormously. And so they introduced us and people, at least were willing to talk to us. And then it came down to the business proposition. Well in the very beginning we were free. So then the question was how much channel capacity did you have? And so we could replace existing weather channels, the ones with the dials and the slow pan camera that was easy. But to create a channel, there were lots of, remember there were lots of networks being created competing for clearance. This is in the early 80s and it was not all that easy. And then it got really awful a year after we launched because we were about to fail and it became obvious to us that unless we had a subscriber fee that, , we might have to close it. And so then it got really tough ’cause then I had to go around with a tin cup and said, you know, here are our financial numbers, here’s what we think we can do if you’ll pay us a few pennies a month for a subscriber but it’s up to you. You know, you all have to decide whether the services work well to you or not, enough to keep going. And we got lucky and they all voted yes, not all but most enough. Gave us their support. And that was really the defining, the turning point when they agreed to pay us the sub fees. And we and the industry started to grow like mad, you know, with upgraded equipment and more channel capacity and more subscribers were coming on and we rode that wave. And that gave us enough, , sub fee revenue as well as enough critical mass to go to advertisers and start selling. That, , you know, we’ve been a success. But those were tough times. I mean, those were very tough times and, you know, we were ahead of our time in that sense. Because we weren’t a big entertainment network. Most people look down their nose at us and thought that we were just this little incidental thing that was sort of nice to have but it didn’t matter. And now their research tells them we’re a little more important than that. It was tough in the beginning. Tough to attract good people, tough to prioritize, tough to get good channel position but we persevered and with the help of a lot of great people we’ve been able to be successful so.
LIM: Is there anything else about how difficult it was in the early days and at the end of the day what made The Weather Channel successful on a financial level?
WYNNE: Well it was clearly that we got a subscriber fee. It was clearly that we grew with the industry so that we could be of interest to advertisers. If you’re too small they’re just not going to spend any time with you. And I think it’s also, I mean, all of that came from the fact that we were delivering our promise to consumers so that viewers were there. Access is one thing but if people don’t watch you then no one’s going to want to pay you a fee and advertisers aren’t going to want to spend any time with you. Any money with you. And so we lived up to our promise and over time I think we’ve continued to enhance the value of the service. And as you know, I mean, we started, everybody laughed at us. Now turn to any channel and see them doing weather. I mean, everybody does weather. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Channels that you wouldn’t imagine doing well, or putting weather up there. And even if it’s not terribly relevant, you know, it’s generic and so they obviously [???] start just telling them I’ve got to do something with weather. And in, in a sense it’s flattering but throughout all of this we’re continuing to grow and yet in terms of time devoted to weather, I mean, it’s probably a 10 fold increase. I mean, I haven’t done any measurement in our own T.V. stations to see how much more time we’re devoting to weather, but I’ll bet you it’s probably 10 times what we did a decade ago or 15 years ago. And we’re still the brand and so that’s very… that feels good. I think we’ve provide our people have really provided some leadership in it and there’s some great opportunities for us in the future that we’ll be looking at that could take us to still another level. So getting through that, proving that there, a habit really could be formed and that took multiple years for us to get really decent ratings on the following other than just the weather junkies, you know, the weather chasers. And figuring out that it could really help people. Those were all things that made a huge difference to us and, and frankly, I mean, we have always been completely honest with our customers, our consumers and our cable operators and our advertisers. If we don’t know the answer we’ll tell them and try and get back to them or something that’s relevant. So our credibility, you know, we have absolutely no leverage in the margin place, zero. We’re the smallest of the small when it comes to size in the cable programming industry. The only way we win is by being halfway decent and good on a consistent regular basis. Because we could be muscles by anybody in that sense. And so that, you know, you got only the paranoids survive, you know, Andy Grove wrote that. It’s the truth, and so we’ve been fairly paranoid for a long time about always staying close to customers and meeting their needs. And that’s work for us.
LIM: Over the years it’s getting a comfortable level for this channel and for the operator.
WYNNE: Well there are two or three things that are relevant to that. One, we needed to hold down the cost to maximize our penetration because cable operators needed to make money too and if programming just went through the roof and we were responsible for it. All of us would have to, would pay some consequence either through less penetration in terms of how many households would take up cable or whatever. So, we wanted to hold our price down. Remember I also said I showed them our numbers and showed them what we projected and so we, I mean, we weren’t any secret. We weren’t trying to hit any home runs. We were trying to have a good solid business and they understood that these fees would allow us to do it. You know, in hindsight at this point compared to all the surveys we are very underpriced but we’re successful it’s okay, I mean, we’re doing fine. We don’t really have any market power to make somebody pay us 50 cent a subscriber for, you know, as opposed to what we could pay. But we have a, we have a good business and I think our customers appreciate the fact that, that we’re reasonably inexpensive and as a consequence they value our service more. And they also know we’re being honest about it. When in fairness some of the other services have a cost of programming that is astronomical. And they bid for rights and all of that sort of thing. And so some of their costs have to go up just to reflect that. It’s a different kind of environment.
LIM: Have there been any milestones for The Weather Channel?
WYNNE: You know, I’m not, I am most [???] or not the type to ever think that we’ve ever made it to be honest with you. And so, no not, not since. I now hope our people never get that way because then you lose your edge. You stop being, stop changing, you stop working for that next thing you can do that’s better. In fact, our attitude has mostly been when you know you’re going to get there even if it’s a year away you start looking beyond it so you can figure out how to take it to the next level. But if, I mentioned to you the tin cup and get cable operators agree and pay us. That was huge. I mean, we would have failed if they hadn’t agreed to do it. I mean, we literally would not have made it. When we got our satellite transponder in the very beginning. , that’s a cute little story in itself. Gordon Herring got it for us from Burt Harris over a weekend and when public companies couldn’t react and we were able to get it that was a big deal. We couldn’t have launched without a transponder on a bird that was being watched. You know, I guess another thing that, that it, it was sort of gradual over a period of time which was a holy cow. Whenever I travel now, people are talking about The Weather Channel and it just, it does surprise. I mean, I’ll have to be candid with you. Almost never do I travel anywhere where I don’t hear somebody talking about The Weather Channel. And did you see it this morning or, you know, I got to do this or whatever. And it’s just the amount of interest in it and the usage, the regular usage of it, is very confirming. I mean, frankly it makes you feel good that so many people do it. But holy cow, I don’t think we’ll ever get there on the holy cows so.
LIM: Tell me about the positioning and how the industry evolved together.
WYNNE: I think we filled a very distinctive niche that allowed, that added another piece to the equation of the value of cable to individual consumers. And you know, it’s as I said everybody has their own favorite [???] surveys. Most people have five channels that are their favorite. Well they’re not the same five. And as a consequence you take the number of services that are out there, the major services and whatever number you pick 20 or 30 or whatever it is. And each of us has a very strong following and it’s a fabric that the sum total is stronger than the parts obviously and, and that’s the magic of cable. In that you can get from this one delivery source so many different, distinctive services that can matter to different people and we fit in to part of that. I don’t think we were any more important than lots of others. I think we, we did our share and we did a good job of it and so we help.
LIM: How does The Weather Channel fit in to a global scenario?
WYNNE: Yeah, well as you know in the Americas we have The Weather Channel, we have three networks. It depends upon how you look at it, you could argue five networks that cover the Americas and we have Spanish and Portuguese covering Latin America. We of course have English here and then we have English and French in Canada. And we own 50 percent of the French, of the Canadian service and we own 100 percent of this one and the one in Latin America. And that’s the area that is most important to us because that’s home to us in a sense. And we want to do a good job there. A long time ago, eight or 10 years ago we went into Europe and we tried to replicate almost on the exact same business model, what we had done in the United States across Europe. We were late, it didn’t work. The interest in weather was nowhere near what it was in the United States and so we way under estimated the challenge and we were a little glib in going over there to be honest with you. And I managed to lose about 50 million dollars for my company over a period of time. And we were wrong. You know, we just didn’t do it right in terms of the future. We now have weather.com. And so what we’re doing now is translating weather.com into multiple languages, lots of languages. And the key to that will be to partner with certain people around the world who have on the ground abilities to market and make people aware that the service is there. We’ve been invited as you can imagine into lots of countries. China invited us in a long time ago but in a way they weren’t going to give us a business opportunity or at least at the time we didn’t feel so. We were interested, but we didn’t feel so. Then, you know, some of these other things may have all where they could be a real good business opportunity but again remember we have no leverage, we’re the little guy. And so when we do these sort of things, we really have to do our homework and be sure that there’s something that’s sustainable. The sustainable competitive advantage and the sustainable business model and so at the moment we have no grand plans for the rest of the world as it relates to weather. We are doing a number of things and we’re doing them pretty well but, we’ll see. And one interesting thing is when you do the weather for the United States you in fact have to forecast the weather for the world. World spins weather rotates, you have to understand all of that. And we have been for the last number of years spending millions of dollars on R and D on better forecasting, to take it to another level. And we’re making some breakthroughs in that and if we do that and in fact can forecast better weather in a meaningful way, so that it matters. The difference that we’re able to forecast, who knows what we might be able to do with it around the rest of the world. The key to that is to authenticity and reliability and we’ll see. That’s, you know, sort of this grand design out in the future that maybe we’ll get to. Within this country there’s a lot of opportunity for us, in the area of weather. We’re doing a pretty good job with media at this point but there are other industry segments that we’re just starting to get into yeah and so that’s another whole subject.
LIM: Can you tell me about the evolution of cable advertising and what it did for the industry?
WYNNE: Well we had to have it. I mean, without it, none of us would be successful, I mean, there’s no question about that. In the beginning, you know, we were picking up scraps off the floor. It’s a very interesting thing, you know, that’s happened by the way. I’ll give you a couple of tidbits on it. We were talking about putting The Weather Channel on and we went around and did our due diligence with ad agencies. Oh, they said, oh a great idea, we can’t wait to have something like that we’d love to support it. Well naive me, without realizing that of course they’d want to have as many services as they could possibly place their hands on because it would give them leverage against their existing carriers, the networks, the television stations or whomever. And this would be a low cost entry point for them so it would work. When it came time to ask for some ads, none were there. Almost no one showed up in the very beginning and that was the same experience for almost everybody in those early days. And what we found is: one, the quality of our programming wasn’t very well appreciated. You know, people tend to look down their nose at it, production values weren’t well perceived. We didn’t have enough critical mass and advertisers and advertising agencies were accustomed particularly agencies to dealing with box car numbers. They wanted big numbers. The efficiencies in there were structured to buy big numbers in mass media. Buying niches were not, they had separate departments they had to create, it was costly for them to do that. So we all started to go straight to the advertisers with fresh ideas and the advertisers actually made it for us. They’re the ones that told the agencies we want you to do something with this, put them in the plan, these guys have got great ideas. So it was back to the old days of television, fresh creativity, new thoughts, ways to reach your consumers with fresh messages. And over time it’s evolved into a significant medium. It’s still dramatically under priced compared to off air television. On a CPM basis. But in terms of share of viewership cable as a whole still gets a much smaller piece of the total pie that it ought to get based on its total share of viewing. But everybody’s grown with it, everybody doing pretty well with it. We’re all getting hammered this year, it was the worst year I can remember in my 27 year history with Landmark in advertising. Absolutely the worst. But that too will pass, you know, and it will come back again. And, and cable will be well positioned, , and to have a great future. Now Bob Alter at the CAB and a lot of all the wonderful people did a great job there to legitimize cable when we didn’t have much. And to help us really get access to places so it was very hard to get to.
LIM: Tell me about the playing field for advertisers.
WYNNE: Well that was the point I was making about the advertising agencies before. There’s no question that it gave them, , more opportunity, , to try and reach more targeted audiences. And, , but that was a new phenomena. Remember these people were dealing with mass media, they were used to buying, television’s mostly branded advertising. They’re not pricing items right, newspaper are pricing items. Sometimes you see direct response and PI ads but for the most part television’s branded advertising. Moving them down the niche and moving them up the value chain closer to a transaction was something that most people didn’t think of for television. And even today, people still generally think of it if they want branding they buy the big numbers and so, you know, the large companies that own multiple networks they can put them together even in a cable industry or very advantaged when it comes to doing that sort of thing. We’re just this little guy, you know, trying to get in. But it did offer a lot more opportunity to advertisers to get their messages out and it allowed them to go to environments, I mean, Michelin tire. What better place for Michelin tire to advertise on The Weather Channel given what they were trying to do, talk about safety and children and babies. I mean, it’s, it’s a lot, they don’t happen to be spending a lot with us but they have in the past. And there are things like that. United Airlines is one of our first advertisers and they wanted to identify with safety and keeping people current on the weather and that’s what we’re all about too. And environments do matter when people get it and they want to figure that out. To [???] they say weather, I’m not interested. Weather your numbers are too small for [???] But the ones who really spend some time looking for creativity we’ve done very well with so.
LIM: What about when the consumer can almost have a touch point with The Weather Channel?
WYNNE: I think you’ve got to be into database marketing if you’re going to make that all work. , we’ve gotten into database marketing so that we can try and provide people things that they opt in for as opposed to passive they get exposed to. And if you don’t have the ability to do that on interactivity I think you could be heading for a problem because there’s also the ability to delete ads. You know, wholesale if people choose with technology and so you better have a message there that they want.
LIM: Overall what advice can you give in terms of how you succeeded?
WYNNE: Well, I don’t think there was any magic formula in it frankly. We tried to help our customers as much as we could to be successful and so there are examples of things I tried to do when I was on the cable board, the NCTA. I was on the board for a long time, on the executive committee for a little while and you know, head of the programming service for a while and there’s always been sort of a push pull between programmers and operators. You know, sort of a love hate in a sense. And trying to find common ground so that we could all have a win/win. , has always sort of been my philosophy. I believe in win/win. I don’t believe in win/lose. Maybe it’s because we’re so small that we’d always lose if I believed in win lose. But no it’s all, I’ve always thought that business is more fun and better if you have a win/win philosophy and so we’ve done that and tried to help that. We have a lot of friends in the programming industry that in the early days I’d go and ask them for advice. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing in many areas and they were free to talk generically about it nobody ever gave us a competitive advantage of course. That would be silly. Why should they? But they were very good in trying to educate us and you know, in the programming side we’re friendly competitors. We all compete like made, but we respect each other and I, it was just, I mean, such a wonderful experience in many ways to grow up with all these entrepreneurs and all these great people. None of us having a clue how to do it. All of us sort of experience along as we went and, you know, we caught this tidal wave and it’s all been wonderful and the beneficiary is the American public. And that’s a good feeling, you know, in that sense. Advice, you know, it’s standard business advice. You know, integrity, treat people the way you like to be treated. Take care of your customer, take care of your people and always try and figure how to differentiate yourself.
LIM: How do you see the industry several years from now?
WYNNE: Well, you know, these things if you look back over a very long period of time, it’s not the first time you see consolidations. The short first answer is I don’t know and I don’t. But there’s been a clear trend through this economical cycle we’ve just been through to consolidate. I mean, lots of things can change that. Regulation can change it, bad performance can change it. Very large companies have a history with many exception. GE’s a very good exception of not being able to run multiple businesses like a conglomerate as well as individually focused companies can that are just in that individual business. And so you see these cycles of consolidations and you can remember in the 70s and 60s the big conglomerates, they’re all gone. They’re not there anymore. And there has to be some common bond across these things. Either core competencies or management or synergy. The word synergy is so misused, you know, and very few companies find synergy across significant companies. GE again is another exception. They have taken business practices and used that as synergy across. But that doesn’t happen much in the media business to this point. And the truth is, media business has been so successful for a long period of time and has not been as competitive as many other industries that we have not had to be as efficient on the one hand. Or as focused in sharing, benchmarking their processes, lots of things like that. And what you’re seeing how is the hope in these consolidations that a lot of that can happen. And if they can happen then these companies that are consolidators are going to be wildly successful. That’s a big if. There’s a lot to do there and it takes extraordinary management. There are not many Jack Welch’s in the world, but there are a lot of very able people who are trying to do it and I certainly wouldn’t under estimate any of them. Do I think we’re going to become part of them? No I think we’ll keep our own way and be the little guy on the street and hope that there’s always room for a little guy like us so.
LIM: So you’re going to stay on board of Landmark?
WYNNE: We don’t have a separate board for The Weather Channel, yeah, we just have a Landmark board and we talk about all of our businesses there. Yeah, I’ll stay on Landmark’s board and you know, it’s funny people talk about retirement, I really think of it as redirection. I’m 56 and I got hopefully a good while ahead of me to, to contribute and do some things. And I’ve always looked for a learning curve. I’ve always wanted a steep learning curve and I find that I do my best work if I have a steep learning curve. I’m always interested in what’s coming up. And, you know, it’s time for me to shift in to other kinds of things. And so I’ve spent more time, , in civic things and more time in, particularly higher education and I’m particularly involved in the state of Virginia and trying to help them face a few issues that I think are critical. Not as an elected political person but behind the scenes trying to. And the processes that are involved in both government and higher education are entirely different in the business. And yet a lot of what I’ve learned over the years can help in those ways. So, that’s very challenging. My wife and I want to spend more time together. She made a lot of sacrifices over the years. My boys have made a lot of sacrifices over the years ’cause, you know, this is not a nine to five job. And so I hope we’ll have more opportunity to do some things together that we haven’t been able to do.
LIM: How did the success of The Weather Channel affect you family over the years?
WYNNE: Yeah, , well, I mean, I, we all feel very lucky that I’ve, Frank Batten hired me and I’ve been able to work at Landmark and it’s made us able to do things that we couldn’t imagine we could do. I mean, you know, we were making 7500 dollars a year as a lawyer when we started out, so that part has been great. Frank Batten has been about as great a mentor as anybody could ever hope to have. I mean, he’s, I love the man, he’s spectacular, I can’t imagine, I haven’t worked for anybody else and learned about much or been treated as well and so you couldn’t have asked for anybody better. And I like working in a private company. And all of that has been spectacular. There have been sacrifices. We lost a child to leukemia, in the midst of all this and, and we came back, I was running a television station in California in 1980 when our child was diagnosed and we had to move back. And he died four years later. I actually was negotiating a contract with TCI the day he died. Of course I wouldn’t have been out of town if I thought he was going to die but you know, do I feel good about all of that not being around when my child was sick and my wife had to carry the burden for all of that? To tell you the truth, no I feel terrible about it. Did I have any choice? I was going to continue to work, so probably not. But, these are sort of the personal things. Everybody would have a personal story. Maybe not as severe as that, you know, but I’ll spend my whole life wondering if I did the right thing. Did I spend too much time on things? I think we balanced it well. My wife was extraordinary throughout all this. Our boys have turned out, two surviving boys have turned out splendidly. Couldn’t be more proud and she gets the credit, you know, because she shaped them. And so that was the personal sacrifice but, you know, everybody has to deal with adversity. Life is not easy. And part of how you deal with it shapes who you are and so we’ve had a lot of luck. I’d give it all up if my child was still alive. I mean, I’d be happy to be a janitor somewhere if I could still have my child but I couldn’t control that.
LIM: Anything else you’d like to add?
WYNNE: No I think the only thing I would add is that we’ve been blessed. Without having the most visible services, the fancy services, the ones with the greatest names, to attract an extraordinary quality of person to work with us that had shared values with us and had the win- win philosophy, treating people properly, taking care of customers. All the things that you hear a lot spoken by a lot of different companies. But that’s what made us a success. I don’t care how brilliant your strategy is, it’s having people that really want to do a great job in a conscientious way day in and day out. And that’s what’s made all of our companies successful and in particular The Weather Channel.