Curt Hecht, Weather Channel Executive and Digital Pioneer, Dies At 47

Curt Hecht, an early proponent of advanced technologies that would eventually destabilize the TV and advertising industries, died Monday. He was 47.

Hecht had been battling lung cancer over the last five months, according to a memo issued Thursday by David Kenny, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Weather Company, where Hecht had been the chief global revenue officer starting in April of 2012. The news is said to have come as a shock to many colleagues, as Hecht had kept the diagnosis private and told only a small handful of people, Kenny said. “He did not want a fuss, or pity, or distraction. Those of us close to him developed an aspiration to be ‘just half as tough as Curt,'” Kenny wrote. “To him, cancer was like a challenging bike ride. He attacked it with grit and determination, and fearlessly agreed to clinical trials so that others could also learn from his fight.”

In recent years, Hecht put much work into an effort that would help advertisers align specific messages with Weather Channel media based on data related to weather patterns. If rainy days were prevalent in the Northwest during a certain time of year, for example, then a big retailer like Home Depot or Lowe’s might make a particular pitch, or avoid placing a message that was more appropriate for audiences experiencing a sunny day.

Hecht supervised Weather’s domestic and international business development, and advertising sales for the Weather Channel as well as the company’s digital products.

Throughout his career, he was quick to latch on to new ways to distribute and place content and advertising, an ability of paramount importance while working in industries that have been massively destabilized by the advent of technologies that allow consumers to access content without being tied to a print product or linear TV-network schedule. His embrace of the data-driven weather technology came a few years before the rest of the industry began to trot out a bevy of new offerings based on the collection of data about consumer patterns.

In 2008, while serving as chief digital officer of Starcom MediaVest Group, a large media-buying operation that is part of the Publicis Groupe of France, Hecht was explaining new concepts like video-on-demand, dynamic ad insertion and “telescoping” from one piece of video to another through the use of a remote control — concepts that, at the time, had yet to be embraced in full by TV networks and other media companies.

“Curt was a remarkable visionary, leaving an indelible mark on our industry and company through his impact building and advancing digital capabilities, programmatic trading efforts, and more,” said Laura Desmond, chief executive of Starcom MediaVest Group, in a statement provided by email. “He was also an exceptional human being, positively impacting so many. ”

Hecht spent 20 years with Publicis, rising from an early job managing the purchase of ads in sports and kids’ programming to opening a San Francisco office for Starcom in 1999 to becoming chief digital officer for the larger Starcom MediaVest Group and then chief executive of a 300-person Publicis unit that helped advertisers navigate across digital media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Google. He played a hand in helping Publicis compete a spate of acquisitions of prominent digital-advertising agencies like Razorfish, which the French company purchased from Microsoft in 2009 for $530 million.

“Curt and I both dream big, but he is the one who could turn the dream into a reality,” Kenny said. “When daily pressures created chaos and drama, Curt would prioritize and keep us focused on the most important and critical matters.”

Hecht’s survivors include his wife, Dorothy Rotatori, and two daughters, Peggy and Kaki. The family expects to hold a private ceremony this week, but a day of remembrance is being planned to take place in Chicago in October. The Weather Company expects to hold an internal celebration of Hecht’s life at some point in the fall.

UPDATE: Curt Hecht was 47 years old, and would have turned 48 in October. The Weather Company initially said the executive was 48.

 

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