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.
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.
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