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Why The Weather Company Rebranded As IBM Watson Advertising

"The world's most essential businesses are platforms," noted CMO Jordan Bitterman in an Advertising Week presentation, heralding the change and the "Era of Cognition."

Any confusion between cable network The Weather Channel and its IBM-owned former digital and analytics sibling known as The Weather Company were put to rest at a kickoff presentation at Monday’s Advertising Week NY event: the data- and artificial intelligence-based marketing business will now be known as IBM Watson Advertising.

To be sure, The Weather Company, and its Weather Underground subsidiary, are not necessarily disappearing, a rep for the the IBM company noted. The Weather Company’s B2B business for industries like aviation, agriculture, energy/ utilities, ground transportation, insurance, and more, is still in-market under The Weather Company brand.

IBM Watson Advertising is solely The Weather Company’s advertising business, which includes a portfolio of media, data (WEATHERfx, JOURNEYfx, etc…), and AI Tech solutions (IBM Marketing Planner with Lucy, Watson Ads, Bidding Optimization, Audience Targeting) for marketers and agencies.

So by separating out a brand strictly for advertising purposes, the company hopes to be able to better showcase its focus on advertising and on technologies that go beyond marketing uses.

“The Weather Company, the company that we’ve all known for many, many years has combined with Watson and today, we’ve re-released ourselves as IBM Watson Advertising — a decisions platform,” said CMO Jordan Bitterman in the middle of a presentation that charted the growth of the web to the future of AI — and what that trajectory all means for marketers and agencies.

IBM Watson Advertising CMO Jordan Bitterman at Advertising Week NY

“We power new possibilities of decision-making informed by billions of data sources and enabled by the world’s best AI technology,” Bitterman said. “This decisions platform works in three very easy steps. It starts with the Internet of Things, with devices. Those devices throw off data. That data gets enriched through an AI tool — in our case, it’s all about Watson. And then, on top of that enriched data, that smarter, machine learning data, we then can go build solutions that we can put to work on behalf of industries across the board.”

The rebranding is the culmination of a process that began with the foundation of  the Watson IoT Cloud platform, which was built on a $3 billion commitment IBM made in March 2015 to invest in IoT.

In the fall of that year, IBM acquired The Weather Company, which included the data/analytics and mobile app side of The Weather Channel multimedia network. Under the terms of the deal, both “TWCs” would share media and sales information, but would otherwise operate as entirely separate entities. The separation is now complete.

The Evolution Of The AI Moment

Aside from eliminating confusion, Bitterman offered another reason for seeking to sharpen the company’s brand identity.

“The world’s most essential businesses are platforms: Google is an essential discovery platform valued at $645 billion. Salesforce is a CRM platform valued at $86 billion. Amazon is a buying and selling platform valued at $475 billion. Twitter is a real-time information platform valued at $13 billion. Instagram, a photo sharing platform with an estimated value of $15 billion,” Bitterman said. “It’s the perfect moment for a new kind of platform.”

Another chart showed the evolution of the current AI moment. In the 1990s, the web had 3.4 billion global users.

“Right now, there are 17 billion devices that are connected to the internet, right now, through IoT devices,” Bitterman said. “In the next two-and-half to three years, that projection is going to be somewhere between 30 billion and 200 billion, depending on which source you look at. With the latter number, that’s 25 devices for every single person on Earth. This is a huge ecosystem that we can draw on, that we can put to use in business. And the second one is AI and the number there is 7.5 billion — that’s the number of people on Earth.”

The difference with previous digital connections from the PC-based web to social media, which were systems where people had to actively opt-in, AI signals will be both opt-in and “ambient,” from using voice-activation to book a trip or in an autonomous vehicle to go from one place to another.

“This is what we do on a regular basis: We receive 88 emails, we send 32 texts, we look at our mobile phone 46 times,” Bitterman said. “We check one of our 6 social media accounts, and we open one of more of our 30 mobile apps. And that completely inundates us.

“This is how it all changes” – Advertising Week 2017

“Technology is being applied in major ways that are both giving us and taking from us,” Bitterman continued. “Increasingly, technology is being applied to solve for challenges created by technology. So, if you think about what companies are dealing with right now — fragmented solutions, a huge cost of change, the need for speed, and of course, the ethics and privacy concerns that we have to be concerned with. So, technology needs to be applied to help with technology. It’s very circular and it’s very meta, but it’s real.”

In Bitterman’s view, IBM Watson has the solution, and it’s two-fold: make data useful. And secondly, connect the unconnected.

Beyond Advertising

To achieve a true ambient internet and “connect the unconnected,” one of the current projects being undertaken by the The Weather Company brand involves helping to “deliver the internet without a true signal” by building alerts for wireless mesh networks.

In places where there’s been a hurricane or other natural disaster occurs, and in developing countries that have lacked the infrastructure for full broadband networks.

The second concept The Weather Company brand is free to pursue involves improving 911 responses.

In the United States,  every year, about 10,000 people who call the 911 center don’t get help in time, Bitterman said, possibly alluding to this USA Today article, which noted the often inaccurate geo-data signals from indoor cell phones from people who may be disoriented or incapacitated from an injury or trauma to communicate their specific location.

“It also happens because the technology simply isn’t good enough,” Bitterman told the audience. “We’ve been rolling out something called IBM Mobile Locator. It’s a cloud-managed service that identifies your location and then, improves the performance and this is how it works. We can get from improving accuracy from 200 meters, which is what a call center currently knows your ID from, down to five meters.”

The Advertising Application

Naturally, the ability to expand the use of data signals, the role of machine learning, and heightened location accuracy also has fairly obvious applications for advertising.

In a blog post, Bitterman outlined the new marketing capabilities that IBM Watson Advertising would be rolling out. The tools include an AI-based media planner (named “Lucy”), Bidding Optimization powered by “deep learning and neural networks,” Audience Targeting, and Watson Ads.

Launched in June 2016 just a day after  venture capital analyst Mary Meeker heralded the greater importance of voice-activated interactive advertising in her annual state of the internet report, Watson Ads was billed as the is the world’s first AI-powered advertising creative that leverages machine learning and natural language processing to make sense of unstructured data sets (ie: text and voice), and enables brands to have two-way conversations with consumers.

The first brands to try out the new speech-based interactive ads included Campbell Soup Company, Unilever and GSK Consumer Healthcare.

“The Watson Ads helping people prepare meals, which is something we did for Campbell’s, or started the car shopping process, as we did for Toyota, or enabling people to relieve allergy symptoms, like we did for Flonase,” Bitterman said. “All four of the products I’ve discussed can be taken together and are available immediately to be put to use in our industry, in the advertising industry.”