In A Pissing Match Everyone Gets Wet


The Weather Channel and DirecTV have gone past the end of their carriage agreement with no new contract in sight. Let the PR games begin!

It’s only been the last few years that cable companies, satellite providers, stations and networks began airing their disputes in public, asking for your help to make sure channels don’t disappear. That makes me uncomfortable.

From my vantage, this dispute seems the most public and potentially ugliest so far. The Weather Channel is both DirecTV’s supplier and competitor–mostly owned by NBC/Universal, which itself is owned by Comcast! Comcast has to be careful they’re not teaching their suppliers how to beat them at their own game!

The Weather Channel of 2014 isn’t the same service that John Coleman began in 1982. Back then it was 100% weather presented without much sizzle. Today’s TWC is much more slickly packaged with lots of non-weather programming. DirecTV says, “more than 40 percent of The Weather Channel’s programming is dedicated to reality television shows.”

Beyond that, its iconic “Local on-the-8s” forecast is no longer uniformly delivered. In Connecticut, Comcast didn’t provide the local forecast on TWC’s HD channel. The forecast on TWC’s standard def channel was for the shoreline and often inapplicable where I lived a few hundred feet up on Mount Carmel. Here in Irvine, AT&T Uverse doesn’t provide it at all.

It’s also a problem for DirecTV subscribers.

Since we are a national service provider, we’re unable to offer local updates through The Weather Channel the way that local-based companies can.

The Weather Channel is facing a financial reality some all news channels are also facing. People watch when the weather’s compelling and don’t when it isn’t. That’s part of the reason for the move into (easily preempted) unscripted non-fiction.

weathernationThe wild card in all this is DirecTV’s ace in-the-hole, WeatherNation. A few weeks ago DirecTV began carrying WeatherNation right next to The Weather Channel. Begun by Paul Douglas, a Minneapolis area meteorologist for years and innovator in computer graphics, WN reminds me of the ‘old’ Weather Channel. It’s all weather with clean graphics, nothing fancy. It looks like a lean operation with the on-camera meteorologists acting as their own director, switching the show live on-air.

The Weather Channel is pushing back on-air and on-line. Jim Cantore, their most recognizable meteorologist/personality, has become the company spokesman.

But now DIRECTV is threatening to remove this critical life-saving community resource from 20 million households.

The problem is TWC probably isn’t where you should go when weather is critical. You’re nearly always better served going to a source which specifically concentrates on your specific area.

In the end this dispute isn’t about competition or technology or even “life-saving.” This is about money and power. When an agreement is reached (it will be) both DirecTV and The Weather Channel will shut up and play on.

Today it’s a pissing match and unfortunately, in a pissing match everyone gets wet!

Gustav’s Approach

Reporting from Houma, LA tonight is like being in Hiroshima to cover the end of World War II.

View Larger Map

I just came downstairs. Helaine had the Weather Channel on. I’m not usually a TWC viewer but I know who Jim Cantore is. I sat next to him at a friend’s wedding. Tonight he’s in Houma, LA. Why? In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, live TV coverage from landfalling hurricanes contributes to the “I’ll ride it out” attitude that gets people killed.

I don’t want anyone hurt, but will it take a death or serious injury before reporters are no longer stationed where hurricanes strike, just because it produces great video?

Reporting from Houma, LA tonight is like being in Hiroshima to cover the end of World War II.

Hurricane Live Shots – Enough Already

I spent a lazy day around the house this afternoon. For much of the day, Comcast decided I didn’t need cable access – thanks.

For part of the afternoon I buzzed around the cable news channels and TWC. I saw a variety of “harm’s way” live shots and I’ve had it. Enough already.

Whatever it is that defines the words ‘public service,’ this is the opposite.

Part of what broadcasters do (maybe we did more back when we pledged to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity) is inform viewers. In the case of an approaching major hurricane, we should be informing them about the coming storm and proper safety procedures.

Having these cowboys (and cowgirls) on from the scene sends exactly the opposite message.

As was shown with the Columbia shuttle disaster (and I suppose Einstein talked about this a little too), even an object with low mass can be trouble if moving at a sufficiently high rate of speed. What won’t hurt you if hurtling at 120+ mph?

Can rocks and pebbles fell you? Sure. Will a tree branch or aluminum sign sever a limb? Possibly. Can you get killed in a dozen ways or more? Absolutely.

Reporters stand outside, between buildings, claiming they’re in a protected area? Doesn’t anyone remember the Richelieu Apartments in Pass Christian, MS? Sturdy, concrete construction – leveled.

Actually, the reporters have the advantage. They’re using both eyes. The photographer is myopically staring through the camera lens… robbed of peripheral vision and depth perception.

This is very different than tornado chasing, where the periphery of the storm is much more well defined. In tornadoes, no one tries to get inside the funnel.

More than anything, this just sends the wrong message to the general public. And, of course, it emboldens news directors and assignment desks to send more people and equipment into the storm. Competition is, after all, competition. Who wants to be beaten on a story like this?

I don’t want Jim Cantore, Anderson Cooper, John Zarella, Rick Sanchez or their unseen cameramen and producers, to die. But someone is going to die – and for what?

That’s what’s going to put a stop to this. Someone will die or be terribly injured. I will take no solace knowing I told you so.

Bogger’s note: I write something similar to this every year. You can see it’s had no effect at all

Jeff and Lauren Get Married

This was the payoff of the trip – to get an watch two friends get married. It’s always a little chancy when you go to a wedding. There are weddings and there are WEDDINGS. This was the latter.

The wedding and reception were held at a restaurant/caterer located within a very nice office park – Villa Christina.

Jeff and Lauren got married under cover, though outside. The guests sat in chairs on the lawn. It was breezy and chilly, but it was raining where Jeff grew up and snowing where Lauren grew up. Breezy and chilly was good.

The first good sign was when I overheard the usher tell another guest there was no side for the bride or groom – anyone could sit anywhere. I found a seat in the back, but on the aisle. I wanted to take pictures.

It was a very informal ceremony, performed by a very folksy reverend. A few times, when appropriate, Jeff made comments to the crowd. There was lots of crying… good crying.

I was very impressed when Lauren’s grandmother came up to the mike and recited a very sweet poem, from memory. It was a nice touch, as was Lauren’s sister’s singing.

If I’ve ever been to a wedding with more good looking women, I don’t remember it. Yet I still desperately missed Helaine. I think I would have had even more fun sharing this time with her. It really was contagious.

After the ceremony there were appetizers and an open bar. I managed to get some food on my suit. Maybe it was better Helaine wasn’t here after all.

Dinner was in the ballroom upstairs. The food was very good and the ambiance continued to be great. I was assigned Table 5 and ended up with a bunch of people from The Weather Channel, including Jim Cantore, their best known on-camera meteorologist.

Before I wrap this up, I have to relate one story which goes to the general mood of the evening. There were two still photographers at the affair, one shooting Nikon and the other Canon. Both had nice pro level cameras and lenses.

I tried to be out of the way as they shot. After all, they were there to document this for Jeff and Lauren and though I’d be shooting away, they take precedence. A few times during the evening we chatted, and they were friendly.

All was fine, until my battery went. I had taken over 120 shots at the time, and though I was surprised it went, I shouldn’t have been… and should have brought a second battery with me.

The Canon photog, seeing my plight, offered me a spare battery! These are special batteries made just for these cameras.

I told him I didn’t want to have him take a risk, but he insisted as he knew I’d want to shoot the bride and groom as they made their entrance.

I took my shots and then, guilt ridden, brought the battery back to him with thanks. A few minutes later he was back, with his charger. A half hour later, I was all set with a charged battery.

This guy was great. This was a selfless move by someone who cared enough to see I was having a good time.