Weather Drift

The Weather Channel Gets Back in Touch With the Actual Weather


Expect to see more weather on the Weather Channel.

To help resolve a nearly three-month dispute that saw its programming disappear from DirecTV (DTV), the Weather Channel agreed to cut its weekday reality shows by half and air more live programming starring meteorologists and maps. “Our viewers deserve better than a public dispute, and we pledge to reward their loyalty with exceptional programming and more weather-focused news,” David Kenny, chief executive of the channel’s parent company, said in a joint statement with DirecTV. The companies did not disclose financial terms of their agreement.

While part of the conflict was money—how much DirecTV would pay to carry the Weather Channel for its 20 million subscribers—another issue involved what kind of programming one finds when the weather is placid, producing no compelling live events to cover. “We always try to listen to our customers, and in this case they were telling us that the Weather Channel had too many reality shows and not enough weather,” says DirecTV spokesman Darris Gringeri.

In February, the channel stopped showing such series as Deadliest Space Weather and Coast Guard Alaska from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, relegating most of those shows to weeknight and weekend periods whenever weather news is slow. The company says it interrupts the programs whenever severe weather is breaking news. For its part, the Weather Channel was also hearing some of the same gripes about reality-TV shows from more meteorological viewers. “There’s a lot of mixed opinion, like everything, right?” says Shirley Powell, spokeswoman for the channel. “The stuff that DirecTV shared with us was not a big surprise to us. We heard the same thing from our own fans.”

While one can debate the meteorological merits of Highway Thru Hell, Canadian explosives technicians (Pyros) or the lethal risks posed to gem miners (Prospectors), those shows increased viewer engagement and kept channel surfers tuned in longer—an effective antidote to the ranks of 30-second forecast scanners who pop in and then quickly disappear. In business terms, those viewers are not terribly attractive. The company is owned by NBCUniversal (CMCSA), Blackstone Group (BX), and Bain Capital.

Still, straying from one’s core product isn’t usually wise, and the Weather Channel now imposes “a better filter” for all new shows it orders. “It needs to be about weather,” Powell says. “There were shows that we kind of drifted off our brand.”

Bachman is an associate editor for Businessweek.com.

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