DirecTV will return The Weather Channel to the air after a caustic three-month dispute, with the Atlanta-based network agreeing to some concessions.
The Weather Channel is expected to return onto Channel 362 sometime on Wednesday, April 9. A spokeswoman didn’t have the exact time but someone inside the company heard it would be at around 11 a.m.
Off air for 20 million DirecTV customers since mid January, the Weather Channel said it will cut back its reality programs by half on weekdays and allow DirecTV customers to watch the network’s live programming on multiple devices as long as they can prove they are subscribers.
“I was floored,” said Phil Swann, who has tracked the TV technology business for two decades and runs the website tvpredictions.com. “This is unprecedented. This is the first time I’ve seen a TV provider say they don’t like your programming the way it’s constructed and the programmer relenting and changing its lineup. Clearly, the Weather Channel desperately needs those 20 million households.”
Since January, the Weather Channel has already scaled back reality programming in favor of more traditional live weather coverage. It also added a new morning show last month led by former “Good Morning America” weather guy Sam Champion, who moved to Atlanta in December to become the Weather Channel’s managing editor and most prominent face.
In a joint press release, Weather Company CEO David Kenny expressed apologies for its tornado-like public campaign in January. At the time, the network encouraged the public to write their Congressional representatives to complain about DirecTV pulling the channel off its service, alleging this would cause public safety concerns. DirecTV, in response, complained that the Weather Channel was charging too much for its dwindling on-air audience and aired too much non-weather reality shows – up to 40 percent.
Then in full-page advertisements, the two sides argued over how many DirecTV subscribers were leaving because of the situation. The Weather Channel also complained that DirecTV was making it difficult for customers to leave mid-contract without paying stiff penalties. “If DIRECTV truly believes nobody cares about The Weather Channel, then it should have no problem waiving its punishing cancellation fee for those who must change providers,” the ad sniped.
Ultimately, DirecTV has never said if the Weather Channel’s campaign had any tangibly negative impact on them or not.
With the dispute over, the two sides took conciliatory stances in the press release Tuesday:
“Our viewers deserve better than a public dispute and we pledge to reward their loyalty with exceptional programming and more weather focused news,” Kenny said in the release.
Dan York, the DirecTV chief content officer, in the same release, echoed Kenny’s sentiments: “It’s a shame these disputes are played out on a public stage, but I’m pleased that we’ve been able to work together with The Weather Channel in a way that will benefit everyone.”
Financial terms were not disclosed, though the Weather Channel received a small increase but not as much as it had requested, according to the Wall Street Journal. When it cut ties with the Weather Channel, DirecTV was demanding a cut in fees it pays to network, which were estimated to be 13 cents per subscriber per month, according to SNL Kagan, a consulting firm. If the Weather Channel had conceded cuts to DirecTV, it would have had to offer the same lower rates to other carriers, costing the network tens of millions of dollars a year.
Brad Adgate, research director at media services agency Horizon Media, said these types of carrier fee disputes seem to be getting more acrimonious over time. But he’s not sure if this particular battle will have any broader implications since the Weather Channel is a stand-alone operation without a lot of leverage and most cable networks are tied into a larger operation. “Still, it’s not like the Weather Channel was asking for a lot,” he said.
He doubts the Weather Channel’s campaign against DirecTV had much negative impact on DirecTV financially or reputationally. In his mind, too, the Weather Channel needed DirecTV’s 20 million subscribers more than DirecTV needed the Weather Channel.
DirecTV has been using a more modest weather service WeatherNation as a substitute. It will continue to carry that service as well as the Weather Channel.
The Weather Channel’s push in recent years into reality programming such as “Coast Guard Alaska” and “Highway Thru Hell” was to encourage more people to spend more time with the network. Most people only watch for a few minutes at a time. Long-form programming tends to draw more time per viewer but has turned off a lot of hardcore weather fans.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal reported today that DirecTV’s focus on becoming the preferred provider to the Hilton chain may have helped grease the wheels.