Growth in forecast: AccuWeather benefits from China partnership, demand for weather data

Dr. Joel N. Myers on the main floor of AccuWeather on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Myers spoke about Accuweather’s growth and accuracy.
Dr. Joel N. Myers on the main floor of AccuWeather on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Myers spoke about Accuweather’s growth and accuracy. CDT photo

AccuWeather founder Joel N. Myers won’t try to predict how big his company will be in the future.

There are too many variables in an ever-changing digital world, he said, to have the slightest idea. He is determined, however, to be at the forefront of weather forecasting.

That is where he believes AccuWeather is, at the cutting edge of everything weather related, due to the company’s continual global growth.

“We’ve grown in every year we’ve been in business except for two out of 53 years, a history we’re proud of,” he said. “So, 2001 because of the Internet bubble and 2009, the Great Recession, our revenues were negative, but less than 1 percent. We’ve had various spurts. Clearly the company is a lot bigger now, and the last five or six years now have certainly been a time we’ve expanded outside the United States more dramatically than ever before.”

AccuWeather boasts a number of ways it has grown globally, but also locally, where the staff at its Ferguson Township headquarters has increased by about 18 percent since 2013 — from 319 to 375 employees. The company also wants to fill 21 more positions this year.

The company’s foundation, he said, is the accuracy of its forecasts.

“That underpins the company’s growth,” Myers said. “It’s the quality of information, superior accuracy, AccuWeather says accurate weather, and I’ve dedicated 53 years academically at AccuWeather striving for the most accurate forecast possible. We do that. We’re proud of that.”

The company’s expansion has been driven in part by the AccuWeather Network, which was announced last year and launched on Verizon FiOS TV in March; a joint venture with the Chinese government, announced earlier this month; and continually finding ways to reach new consumers, such as more than quadrupling the number of radio stations it serves from about 200 in 2009 to about 900 today.

Myers said the company’s largest area of growth, however, is in digital media. AccuWeather serves about 10 billion global data requests a day, according to the company, in more than 100 languages. The company responded to about 2.6 billion data requests a day in 2012, a 285 percent increase in three years.

“Digital media is revolutionizing the world, and we’ve been ahead,” Myers said. “We’ve always tried to be a visionary and always been ahead of trends. Forecasting has always been my interest not only in the weather, but in anticipating what’s happening. We made a significant shift in 2005-2006 to realize that digital and mobile was really going to be the future and revolutionize the world.”

ComScore ranked AccuWeather’s website 46th, with about 51.2 million combined United States desktop and mobile unique viewers in February.

Digitally, the company is moving at a fast pace in the United States. Its Web traffic has increased 50 percent year to year, according to the company.

“The key to growing digitally is having great content, superior accuracy, presentation and its innovation, and not losing sight of the fact that it needs to be personalized information,” AccuWeather President of Digital Media Steve Smith said.

Employees say they’ll sustain a focus on their mission — to save lives and to help companies and people prosper and live their lives better — as the company grows.

“We do that through our processes and procedures,” AccuWeather Chief Operating Officer Evan Myers said. “Those have served us well to keep an eye on the ball. You can also have the best processes and procedures, but if you don’t have the best people, it doesn’t matter. Those three things — the processes, procedures and the people that have been here for decades, and bringing in new folks — enables us to keep our eye on the ball and grow.”

The vision for how it will grow, though, is not entirely clear.

“Any executive who can tell you where his company will be in 15 years or in 10 years or — in this day and age — even in five years, I would not believe,” Joel Myers said. “There’s no way to know. The world is changing so rapidly, and if they can tell you that or think they can tell you that, I believe they have a problem. You can only provide the foundation for change, evolution and development and have an ability to be nimble and flexible to reflect the kind of changes that are on their way and that will be coming. I can tell you digital will be part it.”

One way AccuWeather has grown has been through the creation of the AccuWeather Network, which took a slice of The Weather Co.’s pie on television earlier this year. The AccuWeather Network reaches 5.6 million viewers on Verizon FiOS TV, and its debut on television cut the homes reached by The Weather Co., parent company of The Weather Channel, which claims to reach 96.8 million households.

AccuWeather reaches an additional 18.9 million households through AT&T U-verse and AccuWeather clients carrying the company’s digital tier content.

Part of the company’s growth is also due to the joint venture with China, which originated because HTC phones were not allowed to be imported to China with preloaded AccuWeather forecasts.

“Probably almost seven years ago we started a relationship (with China), because those phones were sent to port there,” AccuWeather Chief International Strategy Officer Vincent McDonald said. “Chinese meteorological law said only their government can provide weather data to its people. After meetings in China it culminated one and a half years ago that a joint venture would be the best way to do it.”

AccuWeather announced this month that a newly formed Chinese company, Huafeng-AccuWeather, had spawned from the relationship.

“There was certainly a silver lining,” McDonald said.

Huafeng-AccuWeather will provide weather forecasts to people in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, a development that could not have been forecast by anyone.

“I didn’t have the foggiest idea in 1962 we’d be sitting — or even 10 years ago — exactly where we’d be, but I knew we’d be successful,” Joel Myers said. “It’ll continue to be successful, because we’ve got great people, a great philosophy, a great entrepreneurial spirit. As long as we continue to be dedicated and creative we’ll continue to prosper.”