In a novel argument, the Weather Channel is asking its 20 million viewers to urge Congress to intervene in their dispute with DirecV because the safety of millions would be put at risk if they are taken off the air.
The two sides have reached an impasse in their negotiations regarding how much DirecTV will pay to broadcast TWC. They have until Monday night to resolve the issues or DirecTV will pull the channel off the air.
The Weather Channel asked its viewers Saturday to urge Congress to intervene in its business dispute with DirecTV, arguing that it can harm public safety if the satellite system pulls the network off the air for nearly 20 million viewers.
The network’s contract with DirecTV expires at the end of Monday. If an agreement on how much DirecTV pays The Weather Channel is not reached by then, TWC will likely stop airing on the system.
The Weather Channel is asking for a “negligible” increase in what DirecTV pays to air the channel, spokeswoman Shirley Powell said. While hoping for an agreement, “right now it’s not looking so good.”
DirecTV notes that there are many other ways its customers can get weather forecasts.
David Clark, president of The Weather Channel, said Saturday he has no problem essentially equating his television network to a public utility. The Weather Channel is part of the NBC Universal stable of networks and is owned by Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable company.
“Yes, it is a privately held company and a for-profit” enterprise, Clark said. “That’s OK. What also happens to be true is that we have a mission to serve.”
The network is essential to television viewers at times of severe weather, he said.
DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said that the satellite service launched its own service, Weather Nation, in response to consumer complaints about the amount of reality programs that The Weather Channel airs instead of weather forecasting.
Local weather information is also available on local network affiliates offered by DirecTV, and during severe weather, the system also makes its emergency channels available for weather programming, he said.
DirecTV is no stranger to these kind of controversies and is not averse to playing hardball with anyone. They pulled Viacom stations last summer for nine days over a similar dispute and they”ve threatened to kick half a dozen others — including Fox News — over the years. In 2009, they dumped the Versus Network (now NBC Sports Network) during the hockey playoffs when that channel was the sole broadcaster of the early post-season rounds.
Is the Weather Channel a “utility” as they claim? Not hardly. This is especially true when you consider the rash of reality TV shows that dominate its schedule. The 2 minutes of local weather they broadcast every hour can be easily found on local radio or TV. During a storm, local stations are usually excellent sources of up-to-the-minute information. They just don’t seem to have much of a case.
Weather Nation is what TWC used to look like when it first began airing. Direct TV is betting that people won’t be upset if they can get their local and regional weather somewhere else besides the Weather Channel — a pretty good bet when you consider that most people tune to the weather for only a few minutes every day. TWC may be overplaying its hand in this dispute.
It’s not likely Congress will get involved, which is as it should be. Comcast may not like paying a little extra to a direct competitor, but they don’t appear to have much of a choice if they want to keep 20 million customers from abandoning their station.