The Weather Channel (TWC) has stepped back from comments made by an NBC productions executive, which we reported on earlier this week, that indicated that the venerable weather network is moving away from its traditional live weather coverage in order to mix in more long-form programming, including a reality show about a landscape photographer.
Shirley Powell, TWC's executive vice president for communications, said an NBC Universal (NBCU) blog video (which NBCU recently took offline) did not represent a strategic change in TWC's direction. In the video, Peacock Productions executive Sharon Scott touted the new photography reality show and implied that there was less of a need for the television network to cover live weather, given the prominence of mobile platforms (she pointed to an iPad on her desk to emphasize the point) and the station's Web presence.
According to Jenny Tartikoff, a Peacock Productions spokeswoman, that video was taken down once NBCU and TWC "saw how her comments were being misconstrued." TWC is co-owned by NBC Universal and private investors, and Peacock Productions produces some long-form programs for the weather network.
Referring to the video, TWC's Powell stated: "I can't comment on what Sharon said or meant. I can tell you that TWC is fully committed everyday to covering weather information and we do it across all platforms."
"We will continue to cover live weather and severe weather across all platforms. It doesn't mean we are going to shift from one platform to another," Powell said.
According to Powell, the formula will continue to be "about 80 percent live coverage and 20 percent originals and long-forms," which will be preempted by live weather coverage when the need arises.
However, the question of when to break into long-form programming has challenged the network recently, such as in late April when TWC aired the movie "Misery" during a tornado outbreak in the South. As the New York Times reported:
... the Weather Channel's star anchor, Jim Cantore, said he was told that movie night was canceled, and told his fans on Twitter that the channel would stay live to cover the severe weather.
But later in the evening he said he had been severely misled. "Was told we were bagging the 'movie' to do what this network was created for," he wrote, his anger evident in the post.
When a viewer told Mr. Cantore how mad he was about a broadcast of the movie "The Avengers" the previous Friday, the anchor replied, "You're not alone."
More recently, in an interview on "WeatherBrains," an online radio show for the weather obsessed, former TWC hurricane specialist Steve Lyons cited TWC's programming changes as a key reason for his decision to leave the network and take a job with the National Weather Service.
"I was really planning to be at TWC for a long time," he said. "It got just slowly but steadily a little more long-form programming and a little less, in my opinion, of the public service aspect from the hurricane standpoint, and I just thought well, I think it's probably time for me to move on. It was just getting a little frustrating."
TWC's Powell said the station is battling "perception problems" that it is moving away from live weather programming in favor of 'weathertainment.'
"We do seem to be having some perception problems and we're going to work really hard to communicate and try to clear those up," she said. "Live weather coverage will always take precedence and will always be first and foremost for our network."