Japanese companies have been very good at monetizing the mobile space, most notably gaming companies. But there’s one sector that you would likely not expect would be easy to monetize, and that’s weather information. But a company in Japan called Weathernews has done pretty well for itself in this area. The company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange way back in 2003 (TSE:4825) and with offices in 27 major cities in 13 countries, it claims to be the world’s largest private weather service company.
The company has done well with its Weathernews Touch smartphone application, as well as its web and feature phone services. Now it’s looking to make a global push of its Weathernews Touch app, with an English version coming in the next few months. I recently had a chance to speak with the company’s director Tomohiro Ishibashi and representative Ryosuke Ueyama to find out more about their services.
Tomohiro explained that weather data by itself is freely available and they don’t believe they can make money from just data alone. What they intend to do is to make a weather communication community, something more personal and customized. They see this as a new market in the weather information space.
Typically online weather services depend on high traffic and companies monetize that traffic via advertising. WeatherNews doesn’t put ads on their site and with the exception of the occasional banner to promote or explain their services, and they hope to keep it that way. Weather is very connected to our daily lives, they say, and with such critical information they don’t believe they should use ads. Advertisers could want to influence the content and they think weather information should remain free.
So far they have about 20 million unique monthly users across PC and feature phones and most of those don’t pay. But about 5% of those are willing to pay, I’m told. Their smartphone apps have seen about 8 million unique downloads in total, with about 4 million apiece for iOS and Android. The company benefits from being on AU Smart Pass, which led to some good exposure.
The WeatherNews Touch application monetizes with premium services where customers can pay for more accurate or more detailed weather information. This could include some alerts, or the opportunity to communicate in a deeper way with other subscribers (free users cannot do this, I’m told). This does come with some problems however because while Android does allow for automatically renewed subscriptions, iOS doesn’t. So in Japan they sell tickets for seven-day or 30-day periods, and sometimes more.
Will global users pay?
But given that Japanese users are so accustomed to paying for mobile services, I’m curious as to whether global users will do the same so readily. Tomohiro says that before i-mode Japanese users didn’t pay for mobile services in this way, and people didn’t believe in such a market. He hopes that they can get US users to pay for weather information in a similar way, essentially creating a market in the same way that one was created in Japan.
The company is also doing well in China, and has a good relationship with the nation’s leading carrier China Mobile. They have obtained a license in China as a weather provider and has done some testing for the Android market. Their feature phone site in China is doing about as well as their site with NTT Docomo in Japan. While sites like these are branded for the carriers, all information comes from WeatherNews.
Weather services and applications often fall under our radar, and I say that as both a consumer and as someone who regularly writes about new internet services. But at the same time, I do have a couple of paid weather apps on my own mobile (Morning Rain and Solar), so I can’t really argue that there’s not a market for weather services. I expect Weathernews Touch will benefit from good visibility in any market, as long as there are dedicated ‘weather’ categories in app stores.
Stay tuned in the next few months to see how the company progresses.