The Weather Channel, which has seen its value decline over the last year, announced major cuts to programming and talent Wednesday. But the dramatic changes, including the phase out of non-weather reality shows, signify the network’s return to its weather-first roots and may delight the average weather enthusiast.
In a memo to staff, Dave Shull, president of The Weather Channel’s (TWC) television group, listed first “migrating away from non-weather original programming” among sweeping changes in the pipeline for the Atlanta network. Non-weather programming, including shows such as “Fat Guys in the Woods,” has been attacked by critics who say TWC has strayed from what it does best.
Not only have casual weather enthusiasts lamented TWC’s shift to such “weather adjacent” programming. Carriage providers such as Dish, DirectTV and Verizon have also leveraged TWC’s seeming identity crisis during contract disputes to justify carrying alternative providers, such as Weather Nation and AccuWeather, which focus on weather. Verizon dropped TWC in March.
“We will continue to invest in finding creative ways to explain the weather, but we will no longer greenlight any long-form shows,” Shull said in the memo. “Our most passionate fans come to us for the weather and the science behind the weather, not our original shows.”
As part of the shift toward weather-focused programming, Shull announced TWC, effective Nov. 2, will re-work its morning show AMHQ, anchored by Sam Champion, which has served as a blend of weather and other news 7 to 10 a.m. weekdays and 5 to 9 a.m. weekends. The show will have more of a weather emphasis and Champion will no longer host.
Champion, who came to TWC from Good Morning America, “will take the lead in expanding increased weather coverage into our primetime schedule,” the memo says.
“Regardless of the time of day, our mission is the same — to provide the best weather forecasts and stories, and scientific expert explanations of those forecasts,” Shull said.
The overhaul of AMHQ follows news last week that TWC was discontinuing “Wake Up With Al,” featuring Al Roker of the Today show. Originating from New York City, TWC cited the Big Apple’s high production costs for shutting down the show, which aired 5 to 7 a.m. weekdays for the past six years.
The array of programming changes means about 50 jobs will be eliminated, according to CNN, which first broke the news of TWC’s shakeup.
TWC has publicly promoted a renewed emphasis on weather-focused programming as a motivation for the transformation, but its financial woes are no doubt a driving force.
TWC has seen its estimated value plummet over the last year. “As of June 30, Comcast valued its stake in the Weather Channel at only $86 million, down from $335 million at the end of last year,” the Wall Street Journal reported in July.
Hard to think of another major media brand that has transformed itself as aggressively as The Weather Channel. Hard, but to not do so nuts.
— David Clark (@daveclark) September 9, 2015
The cost-cutting measures announced today may represent a move to make itself more attractive to potential buyers. TWC’s conglomerate of owners, Comcast, as well as the private equity firms Bain Capital and Blackstone Group, may sell the network, Bloomberg recently reported.
Even with a return to a weather-focused mission, TWC’s long-term value as a television network is uncertain as it faces increasing competition while consumers have an increasing number of options for obtaining weather information on digital platforms.
CNN’s report indicated that Weather.com, the company’s Web site, produced more revenue in the second quarter of 2015 than its TV business.
“[W]e’re now a technology company that owns a TV channel, not a TV company,” Weather Company CEO David Kenny told CNN.
Clarification, September 10: The original version of this post, published September 9, indicated AMHQ had been canceled. The Weather Channel clarified that show has not been canceled, but will be reworked.