Friday, August 23, 2013

New Weather Network Hopes To Launch Next Year

Cable television is a different beast now than 30 years ago, especially for start-up organizations. Back in the early 1980's, big corporations didn't control cable television networks quite like they do now and it was easier for a cable channel to start up...and also in some cases, fail after starting up. For every ESPN and The Weather Channel there was a SCORE (a joint channel with FNN) and  Home Theater Network. Channel successes and failures in the "wild west" era of cable were mixed...but gradually bigger players and corporations, including one really huge one headquartered here, have taken over.

That really huge corporation headquartered in Philadelphia (Comcast) owns the one weather network on cable that has one of the largest market shares in weather broadcasting and media out there -- and a network that thinks highly enough of itself that it wanted a top level domain to itself.

If it weren't for the hubris on display, let alone my opinion that the quality of programming has declined while the quantity of screaming and hype (naming winter storms, throwing the "derecho" term around more freely than a degenerate gambler throws $100 bills around in Atlantic City) has increased, most of us could probably care less about The Weather Channel (er, Company) and its hold on the weather marketplace.

When I caught wind yesterday that a startup is throwing out blurbs about launching a new network in Fall 2014, I'm curious that competition will provide something different if they get to launch.  The current working name is the Network Weather Channel, which is being fronted by Steve and Mike Smith, plus other investors not named in an article published in MediaPost on Monday.

The network promises an "engaging, informative, and entertaining" presentation style and has already enlisted former The Weather Channel meteorologist (and Philly native) Dave Schwartz, who is providing columns for a newspaper in Upstate New York (which happens to be owned by the Smiths), and a couple of other meteorologists for its on-air group.

Competition has started to increase in various realm in cable television, most notably in sports with the launches of NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) and Fox Sports 1 (formerly Speed) within the last 20 months to compete against ESPN. While the newbie networks have much bigger names and much deeper pockets than Network Weather probably has, ratings will likely struggle to catch ESPN for a while on the whole.  Sports is also a different beast than weather -- and largely dependent on what leagues and sports your network is carrying. Weather coverage is much more like news in the sense that it comes down to how it's covered, how many TV's you get in front of, and how "good" you are at covering it.

The last attempt of note to try taking on The Weather Channel was "The Weather Cast", which was started up by Paul Douglas in partnership with Dish Network in a carriage rights dispute with TWC back in 2010. That network has subsequently morphed into "Weather Nation TV", which is carried on a couple of dozen digital subchannels (the .2 and .3 channels) of over-the-air channels in a number of markets throughout the country. Other than them, and AccuWeather's similar network, the competitive broadcast field for weather is slim pickings.

From a competitive standpoint alone, I kinda hope Network Weather Channel even gets to launch. I'm not wanting the demise of The Weather Channel but I do think competition (and strong competition from someone, somewhere) will raise their game...especially if the competitor brings a straightforward style that is less about screaming "BIG STORMS" or "DERECHO" or sending storm chasing meteorologists right into a storm.  Of course, my wishes for less hype and more substance typically yield the direct opposite result so such wishes may stay just that.

They have a very, very long road ahead of getting their name out there, in building an operation from the ground up, and getting carriage on cable systems through the country. It's probably going to cost them a lot of money, and the willingness to lose a lot of money, in getting this off the ground. It'll be interesting to see if they can pull it off.