Blog2: Production: Minitel Service
3615 Météo — What did Minitel mean to them?
Unlike many popular services on Minitel, which were produced and provided by private companies/individuals, the producer behind the weather forecast service 3615 Météo, Météo-France, is actually a French public meteorological and climatology administration, which was established by decree in June 1993. Before then, it was called National Meteorology Department, affiliated with the Ministry of Equipment and Transport.
Generally speaking, this service was technically and financially supported by French government. In 1998, it had a budget of 1.637 billion francs, 57.5% of which corresponded to a State subsidy and public service missions (civil security, defense, warning service for floods, storms, etc), and 24.5% was the aeronautical fee. However, 3615 Météo was definitely a phenomenal success. By 1998, about 13% of its budget already came from commercial revenues, namely, revenues from Minitel service and its telephone line.2
“Our first customer is the general public.”Marianne Lyon-Caen of Meteo France, referring to the 400,000 hours of consultation of the Minitel 3615 Météo service, recorded in 1996, an increase of 12.44% compared to 1995. 1
By 1997, 13 million people has been connected to 3615 Météo. Its services intended for farmers, vacationers, boaters … have dropped 130 million francs in the coffers. 2
Thus, it was not a surprise to see that Meteo-France is still well-functioning today on the Internet, as both a website (https://meteofrance.com/) and a mobile app.
Although its Minitel service has been closed since 2012, today its website is beautifully arranged. Along with clear sections (Urban, Marine, Mountain and Oversea), some commercial ads are naturally embedded.
Meteo-France also offers various paid services for commercial use on its website, such as local and associative radio offer, meteorage event alert and weather forecast for large construction groups.
We can tell from above that Meteo-France has now developed well-targeted consumer groups and continued to offer all kinds of customer-focused services, as it is fully open to the market.
according to the survey — Meteo France: the benefits of Minitel and the telephone published in 19982, although many people soon recognized the promising future of Meteo market because of the huge profits 3615-Météo had brought, the overall commercialization of Meteo-France was not expected by its engineers back then, when Minitel service and telephone line were still their main means of profit.
Out of 3,700 people, except 3 contract workers, 80% are technicians, engineers or researchers, with a level of training between bac + 2 and bac + 7. Like civil aviation and public transportation organizations, Meteo-France had a body of weather engineers trained at the National School of meteorology. It was not easy to encourage these forecasters, with recognized skills, to put on a salesman’s suit.
“Meteo France is ill-equipped to go into the commercial field.”Philippe Courtier, former engineer at Meteo France, head of the Paris-VI oceanography lab2
Nevertheless, it might not be the only reason that stopped Meteo-France from further commercialization on Minitel at that time.
Minitel gave Meteo-France its first pot of gold.
It successfully built a bridge between Meteo-France and its individual customers. I would say Minitel played an essential role in stabilizing part of Meteo-France’s consumer group at the preliminary stage. Its revolutionary B to C consumption mode had shown Meteo a way to better position their products in the future.
However, after Meteo saw its promising potential in this industry, Minitel system no longer met its requirements.
First of all, lack of convenient user interaction system made it very complicated for consumers to quickly find out exactly what they need on Minitel.
Here’s a Meteo guidebook (for travelling) from 2006-2007 issued by Meteo-France. On page 9, we can see a detailed instruction to use Minitel 3615 Météo.
The operation is complex, as we can see that it required two directional actions. Moreover, there was only a limited number of available content, compared to what it now provides on https://meteofrance.com/.
Secondly, for a weather forecast service like Meteo, which is highly time-sensitive, Minitel system had a fatal flaw — its telephone line based computer host — that largely prevented users from obtaining real-time weather information when they were away from home. Also, because Minitel was mostly used to get family-based or personal service, it was relatively difficult for Meteo to offer their weather forecast service directly to large construction groups or big event organizers, which would allow Meteo to develop a long-term and stable B to B service that efficiently generates enormous interests. By contrast, profit from individual service was pretty limited.
Thirdly, without advanced graphic display programs, Meteo-France found it difficult to further deepen and expand their fields of service on Minitel.
It is mentioned by a report in 1996 that Meteo France had a “mixed look” on the Internet.3
On one hand, the network offered unequaled graphic possibilities to enrich the panoply of cartography, simulation imagery and explanatory video services.
“An animation says more about a phenomenon than a long text explanation.”Michel Le Quentrec, Commercial Director of Meteo-France
What’s more, global in scope, the Internet could also guarantee a commercial breakthrough in a very competitive and less and less regional weather market.
On the other hand, the Internet risked killing “the goose that lays the golden eggs” at the origin of the group’s success in France: 3615 Météo. The general public of 3615 is essentially rural, so a priority would come later to the microcomputer.
By migrating all its applications to the Internet, Meteo France therefore feared seeing its server lose its aura and rather expected a joint development of the two media to cover a larger market.
“Within five years, the number of Internet connections will have reached that of our Minitel server.”Michel Le Quentrec
As a result, it is not surprising to see the launch of website http://www.meteo.fr in 1996 4, and the rapid growth in the variety of both of its traditional and customized services within two years by 1998.1
For Meteo-France, as well as many other online services, Minitel was a groundbreaking start. They mourned for its past in 2012, but they didn’t end with it.
The online ecosystem continues to boom across the globe, in memory of the extraordinary enlightenment and guidance Minitel has brought to human’s Internet civilization.
- The gallery. “L’offre multiple de Meteo France.” La Tribune . June, 24 1998.
- “ENQUETE – Meteo France: les benefices du Minitel et du telephone”. Les Echos. September 3, 1998.
- PAUL MOLGA. “INDUSTRIE: COMMERCE ELECTRONIQUE – Grand beau temps pour les services meteo.” Les Echos . September 18, 1996.
- “Technopratique; Internet : jeux de pistes”. Le Point. February, 24 1996.
Source of image: