DirecTV dispute: Is Weather Channel trying to have it both ways?


The Weather Channel, in less than 12 hours, will lose 20 million viewers if it can’t reach a deal with DirecTV to continue carrying its network. It has appealed to viewers to tell DirecTV and Congress that it serves a public good, and that cutting the network will put lives at risk.

“If you have ever been in a severe weather decision and you need to make a decision to protect your family, you need to get your information from a trusted source,” said Weather Channel president David Clark. “It might be easy to be cynical about it if you haven’t seen it. But if you came to our offices, you’d see the boxes and boxes of letters saying, ‘You saved our lives.’ We have a mission to serve that we take very seriously.”

Yet, this is the same channel that airs reality TV and taped programming 40 percent of the time according to DirecTV, rather than live weather coverage.

Related: Weather Channel urging viewers to pressure DirecTV not to drop network

In April of 2010, even The Weather Channel’s most celebrated meteorologist – Jim Cantore – criticized his own network for airing a movie rather than guiding viewers through a severe weather situation.

 

 

 

Yet now the table has turned and Cantore is campaigning about the virtues of The Weather Channel’s severe weather coverage.

“I have worked more than 27 years to provide viewers with the most critical weather information, when they need it most,” Cantore writes. “As a network, our focus has always been to save lives and teach people about weather and climate.”

Cantore concludes: “I feel it’s just irresponsible for DIRECTV to drop The Weather Channel and deny their viewers access to critical and potentially life-saving information in times of severe weather. I think it’s a dangerous gamble to put lives at risk for a penny.”

In fairness to Cantore and The Weather Channel, the network has made moves to ensure national and regional severe weather events are no longer passed over for docudramas and reality TV. In November, it announced a new emphasis on live weather coverage when it matters most. Recall I wrote:

During major weather events, TWC promises to preempt long-form shows for live coverage and will have the capability to do this regionally, the Associated Press reports. So viewers in the Pacific Northwest, for example, will not be forced to watch coverage of a thunderstorm outbreak in the Southeast instead of regularly scheduled programming.

In my view, The Weather Channel provides exceptional coverage of major weather events. It has an outstanding in-house team of severe weather experts (Greg Postel, Greg Forbes, Tom Niziol, Bryan Norcross, etc.) and some of the best technology in the business. Its reporting from the field, leveraging the talents of Jim Cantore, Mike Bettes, Mike Seidel, and others, is also top-notch.

Still, The Weather Channel’s strategy of airing alternative programming during weather down times (and during prime time) has alienated both mainstream and core (i.e. “weather enthusiasts”) viewers and led to a perception problem.

Every time I write about The Weather Channel, I see the same reactions in our blog comments and social media streams: people miss The Weather Channel of 1980s and 1990s before the days of “Highway thru Hell” and “Prospectors.”

 

 

 

Many viewers also realize their local weather teams can provide effective coverage during severe weather situations. Irrespective of what you think about WeatherNation, the alternative network DirecTV has added to its line-up for straight weather coverage, The Weather Channel’ argument that it’s indispensable is a bit of a stretch considering the resources local weather media offer viewers.

Related: An alternative to The Weather Channel: Weather Nation TV, interview with CEO Paul Douglas

 

I imagine The Weather Channel and DirecTV will eventually reach an agreement. And I hope they do. The Weather Channel has excellent people and offers great storm analysis and weather news. But put me in the camp of viewers who wants more of it.

Perhaps this latest high stakes, high-profile dispute with DirecTV will serve as a wake-up call and force it to re-think the balance of straight weather coverage versus “weathertainment” programming.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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