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Phil’s Weekly Column: Why the news media embraces weather news, forecasts

This year marked’s fourth year as a website and it was seven years ago this month that I first proposed the idea of a weather news organisation to my then bosses at The Radio Network (TRN).

When the website launched in 2008 it was generating around 65,000 pageviews a month.  Now we hit 300,000 a month and so far this year have had 3.7million views in total.

In 2005 the weather idea was a tough sell, trying to convince a New Zealand radio station that they should invest in a weather department – all based on the interest NZers had of Hurricane Katrina.  However I had no shortage of international examples, where most media outlets embrace the weather as they know it’s a ratings winner.

Thankfully TRN were convinced of the operation and I believe it would’ve stayed as part of their brand had the recession not hit the media industry so harshly in 2008.

I’m forever grateful to the management at the time for having the courage to launch WeatherWatch.

TRN, along with most other media outlets in New Zealand, now trust, to provide them with additional weather content.  In fact all mainstream news organisations in New Zealand use us – with only the two government owned news providers avoiding us, TVNZ and RNZ.  (Although TVNZ frequently used us for news and interviews when we were owned by TRN).

Chances are the news organisations you like best today are also the ones that run weather news stories.  

Some mainstream media outlets in this country seem to avoid weather news – but it only shoots themselves in the foot.  Over the years weather frequently out-rates other news stories so any editor should jump at the chance to run weather news.

In 2008, the year Labour lost their nine year control of New Zealand’s government, and also the same year the first ever African American became president of the United States – national weather news out rated coverage of both elections here in New Zealand.

In Google, the word “weather” is searched more than the word “sex”.

Weather is something most of us are interested in – whether you’re in downtown Auckland, rural Otago or in the middle of Russia.  It’s something all human beings can talk about and discuss. 

It’s this very reason that makes weather and media go together.

And when you look at powerful news organisations – CNN, Fox news, the NZ Herald etc – you’ll notice they all invest in weather forecasters and weather centres.  They know it wins ratings for them and is a strong pull to readers and viewers.

APN – who owns the NZ Herald – has invested in growing the weather videos and help create three days a week.  As I said to my cameraman at on Monday – “who would’ve thought 10 years ago that newspapers would be getting in to this, it’s fantastic!”. For that matter, who would’ve thought newspapers would have camera operators and producers 10 years ago.  I think it’s exciting thinking about where this new online world we live in will take us to. is another mainstream news outlet that has put more of a spotlight on weather.  They’ve been using our news and photo services for all of 2012 and their revamped site now includes an “Environment” news section which means their homepage always has environmental, space and weather news.  For months now their iWitness news (viewer news section) has been dominated by weather and nature news, photos and video. Why? Because the weather is often the driving force for viewer participation when it comes to photos and video – often because the public are more likely to be in the right place at the right time for a weather event than a professional photographer or camera operator.

One News, considered by some pundits as being a bit over the top with weather coverage, clearly sees the value in it. They lead their 6pm news with weather headlines before the actual breaking news of the day.  TVNZ also paid Jim Hickey to return and they slip weather ‘teasers’ throughout their news bulletins and some ad breaks – it clearly rates well and works for them. 

Just think about that again – they lead the breaking news of the day from around NZ and the world, with a quick weather update.  That is the power of weather news and information.

In Australia Fairfax Digital owns Weatherzone – a private forecaster that produces its own content but also shares data with their government forecaster.

The idea of media and weather isn’t foreign – it’s just taken a long time to reach New Zealand.

The weather unites us – it brings us altogether.  What else do we talk about when we get in the lift with someone we don’t know?  “Jeez, that rain’s heavy out there today!”. Ice broken.

But on a serious note the weather has huge impacts on this country – especially the export industry.

The government owned forecaster, MetService, has a monopoly in New Zealand – and long story short we’ve been forced to operate on our own – but this is actually helping us. 

It’s forced us to create a unique weather product that doesn’t get bogged down in bureaucracy and numbers – and instead makes boring data extremely interesting to read.  We can take complicated, often confusing, weather maps – and bring them to life in an easy to understand way, but not a patronising way.  There’s nothing I love more than getting someone who thinks the weather is boring to really passionately be interested in it.

We take our directions from you, the public, not the government.  We also don’t put profits before public safety – and openly allow other operators to take our data and news if they need or want it, in return for crediting us.  We don’t try to stop smaller forecasters, we encourage them!

Next year we will roll out more of our detailed nationwide forecasts and we’re also launching a Weather Alert service to better inform you of incoming nasty weather events.

We are working with farmers, growers and the media to ensure we’re reporting on news that matters to you – and ensuring our forecasts are accurate – or are being worked on if they need improving. 

Just 12 months ago we had a large number of international weather news – this year we’ve doubled our New Zealand staff and doubled our NZ weather news content.

So without a cent from the government, we’re slowly getting there. 

I have to also acknowledge the clients that support  Whether it’s the fantastic businesses that have banners on this website, or private clients who pay for our forecast advice for their farms or orchards or business.  I know that without your support this website wouldn’t exist in this form.

So as 2012 shifts into the last quarter the focus for us shifts to Summer and then 2013.  We have some big, bold, plans which we can’t wait to roll out – including apps, which are in the dream phase now, and hope to have the first basic App up and running this summer (and unlike our competitors, this one will be free). 

Keep the feedback rolling in – what we do well, what we don’t do well – and we’ll continue to work harder to build a product that truly represents what New Zealanders want – we want to be your national weather forecaster and we’ll work as hard as it takes to do this.

– Homepage image / File, Francis Vallance

– Philip Duncan, head weather analyst –


Hayley on 28/09/2012 9:40pm

Congrats on four years Philip! Weather Watch rocks and all your hard work has and is paying off! Here’s to the next 40 years :)!!

Zelda Wynn on 28/09/2012 9:12pm

Just love the image By Frances Vallance, awakening to a dawn like that is stunning and people talk about the beauty of nature and weather for days.
Travel can be inspired from a image of weather too.
Auckland forecast was very good yesterday, National one including Auckland was not accurate for Auckland.
Slowly but surely you will achieve your dreams for Weather Watch.

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