20 Million Households May Lose The Weather Channel Tonight

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Update: As of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, The Weather Channel is no longer being carried by DirecTV. 

As many as 20 million television households may lose access to The Weather Channel at midnight due to a dispute over carriage fees between the network and satellite operator DirecTV. The distribution agreement between the two parties expires at midnight, and The Weather Channel has gone on the offensive to try to rally viewers in its support.

In an interview, The Weather Channel CEO David Kenny said the channel was seeking an increase in its carriage fee, the money cable and satellite operators pay television channels to broadcast their content, of one cent per subscriber per month. Kenny says DirecTV wanted to instead cut the channel’s fees “precipitously.” DirecTV chief content officer Dan York said those details were not accurate and that The Weather Channel was seeking for its price to go up “substantially.” Currently The Weather Channel commands an average of 13 cents per subscriber per month from pay-TV operators, according to estimates from SNL Kagan.

Now seemingly at an impasse with DirecTV, The Weather Channel is trying to use public pressure as leverage for a better carriage rate. The channel, which is owned by NBCUniversal, launched an online campaign this weekend urging people to call DirecTV and even their Congressmen to demand that the channel remain on air. The channel’s executives have cast the conflict as a public safety issue, arguing that The Weather Channel relays life-saving information through its storm updates and local weather coverage. So far, the network says its Keep the Weather Channel site has logged more than 700,000 unique visits and more than 180,000 calls have been initiated either to DirecTV or Congressional officials.

DirecTV, though, argues that The Weather Channel’s relevance is increasingly diminished with weather information now available from a variety of apps, websites and TV stations. “Consumers are increasingly getting their weather information from other sources,” York says. “We seriously doubt The Weather Channel are the only ones who can report on the weather.”

To prove that fact, DirecTV recently launched its own weather network, called Weather Nation, which offers both national weather coverage and local forecasts around the clock. DirecTV has pledged that the channel will be focused squarely on covering the weather, a swipe at the increasing amount of reality television programming in The Weather Channel’s schedule, like Highway Through Hell and Prospectors. The satellite operator is also hoping that local weather updates from the 1,400 broadcast stations it carries will help fill in the gap for lost Weather Channel coverage.

The Weather Channel has made no secret of its attempts to expand its content to a broader audience. On weather.com, pageviews for content besides weather forecasts doubled to 2.5 billion views in 2013 thanks to a focus on ginning up viral stories and photo slideshows tangentially related to the weather. And the company’s decision to begin naming winter storms, which has not been endorsed by the National Weather Service, has gained traction with the broader public, often leading to trending topics on Twitter.

Kenny says these types of moves don’t detract from The Weather Channel’s core mission of informing the public during significant weather events. By framing the carriage dispute as a public safety issue, he’s making a big bet that the work The Weather Channel does can’t be easily duplicated.  “It’s naive to say that commodity weather forecasts and other forms are gong to work,” he says. “That might work on some days but it doesn’t work on the days that really matter, which is when lives are at stake and property is at stake.”