15 January 2014

Media Maelstrom In DirecTV Suspending Weather Channel Carriage

DirecTV, the nation’s largest satellite television provider, has suspended carriage of NBC/Universal’s The Weather Channel over a contract dispute.   This DirecTV disruption takes away 18% of The Weather Channel’s normal viewer base.

The Weather Channel had been garnering 13 cents a subscriber per month and TWC was negotiating for a 1 cent increase whereas DirecTV wanted to cut the carriage cost by 75%, supposedly to make up for local carriage costs.

Rather than frame the carriage kerfluffle as a business to business dispute, The Weather Channel President David Clark  framed it as a public safety problem.  The Weather Channel urged customers to contact Congress to intervene in the dispute.  Hours after The Weather Channel was pulled from DirecTV, TWC announced a new initiative to bolster its status as a public utility, by promoting Twitter hashtags such as #gotfuel, #nofuel and #powerlinedown.  These public service internet announcements by TWC follow the direction of the White House, FEMA and the Department of Energy.

For its part, DirecTV added WeatherNation on channel 361 as a substitute weather station.  WeatherNation was created in 2010 after a prior carriage dispute with The Weather Channel.  DirecTV has promised to activate temporary emergency weather channel as warranted (e.g. for a major hurricane).  However, DirecTV points out that in an age of mobile telephony, many weather watchers get their updates via their cell phones and mobile devices.  Furthermore, The Weather Channel has added reality television programs which may increase viewership but seemingly distracts from their supposed public service and information mission.

As the carriage contract dispute continues, The Weather Channel CEO Danny Kenny stiltedly stated: "I am shocked they have put corporate profits ahead of keeping a trusted channel.. We are not looking for a large fee increase. I am hopeful DirecTV will come to their senses soon."  What a way to treat a broadcast partner–  demand a fee increase, muddy your opponent and then threaten to have Big Brother intervene.

The Weather Channel  also trashed WeatherNation as being "a cheap start-up that does weather forecasting on a three-hour taped loop, has no field coverage, no weather experts."  The Weather Channel is right to be worried about competition.  The same day that DirecTV dropped TWC, Accuweather announced its previously secret plan to launch its own weather channel in the third quarter of 2014.  And in October, 2014, Network Weather Channel, which bills itself as having legendary personalities, is set to premiere with easy to read maps 24/7 and no programming.  

Prior to the DirecTV dispute, the Weather Channel bragged at it was in 80% of American households.  But with the  an array of forthcoming competition,  The Weather Channel seems intent to protect its position by ingratiating itself with Uncle Sam to be considered like a public utility with an exclusive on weather.

While I do not dispute that The Weather Channel’s forecast as being as accurate as any other professional methodologist, the quality and necessity of The Weather Channel’s products is dubious.  I read a recent link for the “50 Worst Traffic Cities in the US” on weather.com.  Even though the weather nexus was questionable, it sparked enough curiosity to click through the  pictorial piece with 50 photos and brief log lines. 

It was astounding to see to see the  the questionable quality from a professional website as illustrated on the Worst Traffic Cities article.  In the brief descriptions of locations, there were some glaring misspelling, like Seattle driers (drivers), declaring Austin as the state capitol (that’s a building, not the seat of government) and “The Queen City” of Cincinatti (sic).  But some of the photos were wrong.  For instance, Washington, DC’s traffic jam depicted Rosslyn (Arlington) Virgina, which is across the river.  The traffic jams in Tampa was illustrated via the bridge over Tampa Bay.  My favorite photo flub was showing traffic snarls in Orlando by showing a people moving walkway at Universal Orlando (synchronicity for TWC cross-promoting another NBC/Universal entity).  

From weather.com 50 Worst Traffic Cities  (photo: Flickr/Kamoteus)

Of the ten most popular articles on weather.com, six of them had nothing to do with the weather.  The most egregious article was a Chinese theme park which built an attraction about the sinking of the Titanic. So much for quality control and public service.  

Then there is The Weather Channel’s programming.  Most of the shows had a tenuous connection to weather, such as:  Coast Guard Alaska, Prospectors and Highway Thru Hell.  While these shows might not prompt a dedicated viewer to self-inflict a lobotomy, it is a hard sell to promote TWC prime time as being a public service. 

While John Coleman, the founder of The Weather Channel, labeled global warning as the greatest scam in history, TWC has evolved since NBC/Universal purchased the channel in 2008.  NBC has a history of pushing green through broadcast. Recall Live Earth in 2007, when NBC networks gave 75 hours to proselytize the Gospel of Gore.  The Weather Channel sticks to politically correct conclusions that the so called “polar vortex” is connected to global warming.  It sounds like PC agenda journalism.

The Weather Channel’s public service play and campaign to coerce Congress into action stinks of crony capitalism and foreshadows the dangers of the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace.   It is unlikely that all four televised meteorological stations will broadcast for long together.  But the prospective competition may lead to a price war which lowers carriage rates.  Those channels offering the most appealing programming and with the most savvy business sense should flourish if there still is a free marketplace, that is if there is still a free marketplace. 

If DirecTV is doing a cost/value analysis, they might want to reconsider their carriage of supposed news networks.  While CNN’s foray into programming no longer makes it the place for news and MSNBC acts like the DNC, it might be time to have an agonizing reappraisal of Al Jazeera America.  What is the viewership?  How much control on content comes from Qatar?   Perhaps the satellite provider would be better served by carrying The Blaze TV and making many dedicated customers happy. 

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