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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Weather Channel and Consumer Reports reveal the power of the subscription bundle

January 19, 2023 | By Charlotte Ricca – Independent Media Reporter @Charlotte_Ricca

Subscription fatigue is a major concern for media brands, as top performers consolidate their market position, while new challengers vie for audience attention. Add to that the current economic downturn, and media businesses are rightly concerned about churn rate and revenue. According to recent research, two out of every three people surveyed have canceled at least one service in the last year.

To combat subscription fatigue, media brands need to focus on providing clear value propositions and high quality content, as well as giving consumers more flexibility and control over their subscriptions. 

“We have identified two pain points for consumers,” says Sheri Bachstein, CEO of The Weather Company and GM of IBM Watson Advertising. “The first is managing tons of subscriptions in multiple places, and the second is the cost of those multiple subscriptions.”

Innovative bundling solution

One solution is subscription bundling, which can help lower both pricing to the consumer and investment from the brand. Bundling is most viable and financially rewarding when a brand is part of a larger media portfolio, such as Disney or Apple Services. However, not all businesses have such clout. 

The Weather Company has come up with an innovative solution by developing a platform that enables bundling across media portfolios. “We are striving to disrupt the subscription economy by going across media companies that aren’t traditionally connected,” says Bachstein. 

These bundled subscriptions are another way for the Weather Channel to provide additional value, by aligning with brands that help people make more informed decisions in their daily planning. One surprising collaboration is with ratings organization Consumer Reports. 

“The Weather Channel helps consumers make daily decisions about their day, and Consumer Reports does the same thing, by offering valuable information and services. So it was a very natural fit,” explains Bachstein. “I expect we will see more collaborations like this in the future, but it is certainly one of the first.”

This latest bundle helps consumers access the latest weather along with news, ratings or shopping information in one location. Other partnerships include USA Today, MightyNest Shop and TripAdvisor Plus.

A compelling package

“It’s unusual to have different companies together, offering discounts on a bundle, but our partners are carefully chosen,” states Jason Fox, VP Chief Digital Officer at Consumer Reports. “Both the Weather Channel and Consumer Reports are highly trusted, non-partisan organizations, so we compliment each other well. You could call us ‘post partisan’ as we represent the larger demographic of society and we are proud of that.”

As a non-profit organization, subscriptions make up the bulk of Consumer Reports’ revenue. Therefore, Fox says it’s critical to bring their product to a new audience, while creating a more compelling package for their current customers in order to reduce churn,

“The average U.S. consumer is willing to take out between five and eight subscription services,” Fox explains. “The likes of Netflix, Disney Plus and larger media companies, such as The Wall Street Journal and New York Times take the bulk of this, so we are fighting for remaining slots.”

In addition to driving subscriptions numbers, Fox says the bundle with the Weather Channel is part of their wider growth strategy. “It’s about brand awareness and getting our name out there as a leader in the space,” he says. “While this is an ancillary benefit, and not the main reason for this partnership, it’s an important part of our growth strategy.”

Bachstein agrees that partnering with businesses who share the same mission and values helps strengthen their brands overall, while leveraging their audiences. “I honestly can’t think of a reason to not bundle,” Bachstein states. “You extend your reach, extend the brand and extend your direct to consumer relationship. And if the technology is already built for you, as it is with the Weather Channel, then it’s a win win.”

Subscription innovation

So, what should media executives be thinking about when evaluating the opportunity to bundle? 

“It’s important that both brands complement and trust each other,” says Bachstein. “You don’t want to share a competitive space, you should be adjacent verticals, with shared values and orientations. That’s the sweet spot. To use cable channels as an analogy, you want to have a portfolio approach that offers a value proposition to your consumers.”

Value is key in the current climate. Statista predicts that by 2025 there will be 1.5 trillion subscriptions in the US alone, with the average person spending $1k a year on subscription services. However, consumers increasingly want more value, more advanced features and a more premium experience.

“At a high level it’s really important for a company to think about subscription innovation,” says Fox. “It’s one thing is to set up a paywall, but anyone can do that. It’s about what makes you distinct from others. I really believe that in the world of commoditised content if you are not offering something special it will be a hard sell to create a meaningful subscriptions business. This idea of coming together and offering something greater than we can do individually, is really powerful.”

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