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When the Weather Channel Companies announced earlier this week that it was going to acquire Weather Underground — an indie website with a cult following — the ensuing response among many of those devoted readers was grief. Outrage. Disappointment.
“It seems to happen all the time,” Christopher Maxwell, a Richmond, Va.-based manager at a solar energy company, tells The New York Times. “Something great gets invented and sold in the United States, and it gets bought up and destroyed.”
The Weather Channel’s Weather.com, is the most-visited weather website in the U.S, yet Weather Underground, aka Wunderground.com, remains a strong competitor with a devoted readership and 10 million unique visitors per month; the sites underneath the Weather Channel umbrella, including Weather.com, attract some 50 million monthly visitors.
As the Times notes, the Weather Channel and Weather Underground attract a different audience: the former is viewed as a destination for people who want to know whether they should bring an umbrella with them on the way to work; meanwhile, the latter is a magnet for the geekiest of weather data enthusiasts.
Weather Underground devotees view the acquisition, which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks, as selling out to a larger, more commercial competitor who threatens to tamper with the quality of the product. (Cue angry online detractors a la Mike Tucker, a computer professional from New Hampshire, who wrote on Facebook: “Nooooooooooooooooo! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”)
No details on the price of purchase were given. Weather Channel is owned by Bain Capital, the Blackstone Group and Comcast.
David Kenny, chairman and CEO of the Weather Channel Companies, said Monday in an interview with the Times that he admires Weather Underground’s “hard-core audience,” some of whom see Weather Channel as too advertising-dependent.
But the indie vibe of Weather Underground, founded in 1995 at the University of Michigan, is expected to remain intact: according to Kenny, the site would be its own entity while offering use of its data for Weather Channel forecasts.
“Weather Underground users can expect to see more of the same,” said Weather Underground president Alan Steremberg. “But we’ll have a lot more resources to do fun things.”
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