Business
3:51 am
Fri January 17, 2014

DirecTV: Customers Balked At Weather Channel's Reality Shows

Originally published on Mon January 27, 2014 3:36 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This next story began as pretty much your standard contract dispute. The Weather Channel wanted more money for its programming, and DirectTV wanted to pay less.

So, at 12:01 Tuesday morning, the satellite service dropped the Weather Channel and replaced it with a smaller producer of weather programming, which raises the question: How much do TV viewers really want or need weather information when they can get it from other sources?

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: During negotiations, Weather Channel's star meteorologist, Jim Cantore, made a direct appeal to viewers.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEATHER CHANNEL BROADCAST)

JIM CANTORE: Only The Weather Channel is committed to telling you the entire story, to make sure you're informed and safe before, during and after the worst of it. DirecTV thinks that their subscribers can do without this life-saving information, and has dropped the Weather Channel. Don't let DirecTV control the weather.

DEL BARCO: The independent channel, based in Atlanta, had asked DirecTV to pay a penny more for each subscriber, arguing it acts as a public service or a utility. But DirecTV disagreed, says spokesman Robert Mercer.

ROBERT MERCER: The Weather Channel has embarked on this elaborate, dramatic sky-is- falling campaign, but they're not the only ones who can report the weather.

DEL BARCO: DirecTV has now replaced The Weather channel with Weather Nation, a back-to-basics channel with local temperatures and forecasts.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEATHER NATION BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER #1: Check out some of these wind gusts: 60 to 70 miles an hour.

DEL BARCO: The Twittersphere exploded, with fans and representatives from both companies tweeting furiously.

The Weather Channel has blasted its replacement as a, quote, "cheap startup that does weather forecasting on a three-hour tape loop." Here's distribution president Jennifer Dangar.

JENNIFER DANGAR: They would not pay the penny, and they would rather put something sub-par up. And their customers are not going to have access to the best, most accurate information.

DEL BARCO: Thirty-two years ago, the Weather Channel made its debut on cable TV. And that was thrilling for an entire generation of self-professed weather geeks like Mark Sudduth. At the time, he was 11 years old.

MIKE SUDDUTH: My parents referred to me as obsessed. I mean, I would - when the tropical update would come on at 10 minutes before the hour, get out to my way, because I'm going to make sure I caught that tropical update. You know, and then even the local forecast, the locals on the eights, it catered to those who were into the weather like nothing else.

DEL BARCO: Sudduth says he was hooked: watching meteorologists and storm chasers track hurricanes and tornadoes and blizzards from the studios. It was even more exciting when they reported from the field.

SUDDUTH: It was great, because it was weather 24 hours a day.

DEL BARCO: Watching guys like Jim Cantore and John Hope explain severe weather patterns even inspired Sudduth to start his own successful website, HurricaneTrack.com. Then, he says, something changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEL BARCO: When there wasn't severe weather, the channel began playing movies and reality shows about things like ice fishing.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEATHER CHANNEL BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER #2: Oh, yeah. There's a dandy. Look at that jumbo. That's a Devil's Lake jumbo, right there.

DEL BARCO: And a new show called "Freaks of Nature."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FREAKS OF NATURE')

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER #3: Steven's going to do a 90-foot dive into this 15-foot deep pool.

DEL BARCO: Sudduth says he and others were turned off.

SUDDUTH: Weather is not entertainment. It's very serious. And I think them drifting away from that may have hurt them.

DEL BARCO: DirecTV spokesman Mercer says some of its customers made similar complaints.

MERCER: They enjoy watching weather news without having to wade through a sea of reality TV shows.

DEL BARCO: He points out there are so many more sources of weather news and information now, on Internet websites and smartphone apps. Another network, AccuWeather, announced it will soon go live, 24/7, on cable.

And The Weather Channel still has a strong presence online, and remains available to many cable subscribers. But on DirecTV, it's gone with the wind.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.