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The Weather Channel

"… The quickest, most efficient way to make a billion dollars is to take something universally understood to be true … and bet against it," writes Rob Long in the Wall Street Journal (9/18/09). For the late Frank Batten Sr., the universal truth was that the weather is boring — which he blew to bits by launching the Weather Channel 30 years ago and last year sold to NBC Universal for "a very unboring $3.5 billion — an amazing sum for a channel with no sizzle, no personality and no secks."

Not only did Frank bet that this ostensibly mundane subject was endlessly fascinating, but he also underscored his point by giving his venture a generic name like the Weather Channel. Frank understood that people are "riveted by temperature, captivated by precipitation, and entertained by hearing about the exterior conditions of towns and places they’ve never heard of … The Weather Channel delivers its information in the most tedious way possible — through grids and blurry maps — but for some reason we keep watching. Its dryness is a big part of its appeal."

This is not the weather of "tsunami events or crippling snowstorms — when it’s news — we all turn to CNN or Fox. But when it’s weather of the small-talk variety, we’re glued to the Weather Channel, to its comforting scroll through prevailing conditions, its jaunty supermarket-style musical underscore, its low-rent commercials, its soothing subtext that everything, really, is out of our hands." Rob Long suggests that "when it comes down to it, the star of the Weather Channel is God Himself." Interesting point. And, of course, it’s the ultimate situation room and no-spin zone.