If you’re looking for some consequences from Google’s bold acquisition of leading mobile ad network company AdMob yesterday, consider Weather.com.
Weather.com, a subsidiary of the Weather Channel, has done well because of its focus. You want weather? It will give it to you, wherever you are. It has roughly 100 million viewers on TV, 40 million viewers on the web, and more than 10 million users on mobile devices.
Weather.com is the fourth most popular mobile destination in the U.S., only behind Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, according to the Weather Channel’s Cameron Clayton, vice president of mobile and international. As a purely “curated” content site, Weather ranks No.1, he said. Cameron spoke last night on a panel I moderated at MobileMonday in San Francisco.
But it turns out, Weather.com is actually dependent on Google and Yahoo for a significant amount of its traffic. If you type “weather” into Google, the search engine sends you to Weather.com. And on the mobile phone, with all kinds of people search for Weather while on the go, that traffic is huge. Compete shows that, on the web, 10 percent of Weather’s traffic comes from Google alone. In mobile, it might be more.
But here’s the rub: One notable ingredient of Weather.com’s success is its robust ad sales. It refused to deal with ad networks like Google’s. It has its own salespeople, something Cameron says has become “religion” within the company. By default, that religion makes Google an infidel. Weather also shuns AdMob to serve mobile ads for its mobile offering.
This is all fine as long as Weather.com is just another content provider. But it isn’t. Weather.com has such a huge reach among mobile users that its ad-sales operations are now directly competing against Google’s (especially since Google now also owns the largest mobile ad distributor, AdMob). Google has ignored the conflict for a while, because it hasn’t dealt as much in mobile ads. It has spent most of its time developing Android for mobile devices, and apparently the AdMob deal had been in the works for two years. But now Google is going full bore on mobile. With the rise of the smartphone market, Google knows there’s huge potential for growth: In fact, a 200 to 300 percent per year potential, if AdMob’s recent growth is anything to go on.
I’m not suggesting Google will do anything drastic like cut off traffic to Weather.com in the short-term. Cameron tried to play down the threat last night, calling Google a “frenemy.” But Weather.com’s ad business certainly is the easiest target to attack among the big guys out there, if Google is really looking for a place to go. Why, Google may ask, is it sending Weather.com all that traffic? Why not send it to a source, perhaps homegrown, that serves Google/Admob ads? There are other weather sources after all, such as the National Weather Service or Accuweather. One reason Google may be ok with the arrangement is that Weather.com makes Google its default search engine on its own site.
But one thing’s for sure: Google isn’t afraid of steamrolling people in its way. As we saw last week, when it launched Google Navigator, the future of navigation companies Tom Tom and Garmin suddenly dimmed. Their stocks plunged in the wake of the announcement. Fortunately, at least, for Weather.com, its URL is easy to remember, and will stick for a while in people’s memories — perhaps the one thing preventing it from becoming instant roadkill. At the same time, it’s hard not to see stormy days on Weather.com’s horizon.
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