MIPTV 2012: Mary Ellen Iwata, The Weather Channel

In advance of MIPTV, we spoke to Mary Ellen Iwata, VP of original content development at the Weather Channel, to find out what the network is looking for as it moves more aggressively into original content.
March 27, 2012

In advance of MIPTV, we spoke to Mary Ellen Iwata, VP of original content development at the Weather Channel, to find out what the network is looking for as it moves more aggressively into original content.

Now that you’ve joined The Weather Channel in this role, what is the strategy for original or acquired content – how many hours or slots are you looking to fill?

Right now we are concentrating on primetime seven days a week and in 2012 we are increasing the number of premiere hours by 70%. We are mainly looking to commission original programming but would consider acquisitions. We have a lot of straightforward weather shows in our inventory, so we are not looking for more storm-related programs unless they have a fresh approach and stories that haven’t been told.

What sort of latitude do producers have when pitching ideas to you for the channel – is it a purely weather-related niche you’re looking to fill, or is it a bit broader?

It’s a lot broader than weather “front and center” but the ideas need to make sense for The Weather Channel. We are currently airing two new series – Coast Guard Alaska and Lifeguard! They are very different shows, but in each series weather has an effect on how the characters perform their jobs. We also created an anthology, ‘Braving the Elements,’ where we can incubate new ideas. Two series launching under that banner are Turbine Cowboys and Iron Men. All of these shows have a common thread, which is that they feature people in interesting vocations and [look at] how the elements affect their lives and work, yet they are all so completely different with the people, places and jobs that are featured. We are also open to lighter topics and humor as long as they fit the brand.

In terms of budgets, is there a ballpark that you can give regarding dollars per hour?

The budgets vary depending on the topic, the location, talent, et cetera… I can’t really give a ballpark figure but I can say that our budgets are competitive with other lifestyle channels.

Are there genres that you’d like to bring to the channel that you haven’t explored yet – for instance, would a competition reality series of some sort work on the network, or be entertained in a pitch meeting?

We are open to all ideas and would definitely be open to a competition series. We’ve been pitched a few that we are discussing internally. We’ll listen to all ideas and watch all the demos because you never know. Plus, we have found that with minor tinkering we can take certain concepts and make them more appropriate for The Weather Channel brand filter.

Tell us about some recent commissions and acquisitions, and how they fit into the new strategy.

In addition to the original programs I mentioned earlier, we recently acquired the series Ice Pilots that airs on History Television Canada. It has a great cast of characters and takes place in a remote part of Canada, which creates a lot of drama and jeopardy for the pilots. We’re also premiering a new series called Hurricane Hunters in July. Looking ahead, we are moving forward on a new series with the producers of Coast Guard Alaska which we’ll be announcing soon, and we’ll be announcing another series within the ‘Braving The Elements’ anthology. It’s also important to us that producers think about and create cross-platform content as they develop their show ideas with us.

What are you looking for at MIPTV? Are you looking into coproductions?

We prefer to fully commission shows, but if a producer comes with coproduction opportunities we are open to that. Weather affects everyone, so it’s a universal topic.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.