Taking the Country by 'Storm'
Weather Channel series solid show for Litton
By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/9/2008 8:00:00 PM
The Weather Channel's Storm Stories is a small off-cable show, but now in syndication it gives broadcasters opportunities to showcase their localism in a way that most shows don't usually offer.
That capability has allowed Litton Entertainment to sell the show quickly and to big stations, such as Tribune-owned WGN Chicago, Hearst-Argyle-owned WCVB Boston, and Cox-owned WSB Atlanta. Storm Stories is cleared in 80% of the country, with some stations picking it up as a strip and others for weekends only. “It's the fastest-selling thing we've ever had,” says Dave Morgan, Litton's president and CEO.
The show premiered on The Weather Channel in January 2003 and at the time, TWC bragged about the premiere's 0.4 average household rating, a 36% increase for TWC over its previous primetime average. During its five-year run on TWC, Storm Stories increased the channel's household ratings by 81%, and its ratings among adults 25-54 by 67% over prior primetime programming. Still, those numbers mean plenty of people haven't seen the series.
“Storm Stories fits exactly what a broadcaster is,” says Morgan. “Weather is a big part of a broadcaster's brand. It's why viewers come to local stations.”
It was Morgan's idea to give broadcasters the ability to take each episode of Storm Stories and make it almost totally their own. “We're giving them scripts vetted by the best scientists in the world at The Weather Channel,” he says. “Some of the most spectacular footage of weather is in that library.”
Stations can use those scripts to replace all of the opens, closes and voiceovers with their own team of meteorologists. They also can shoot all of that from their own weather centers, an area on which big stations spend lots of money.
“We're looking to localize the content to be a brand extension of our current No. 1 newscast here in Chicago,” says Ken Reiner, group program director for Tribune Broadcasting. Tribune picked up the show to air on weekends on WGN Chicago; WXMI Grand Rapids, Mich.; and WGNO New Orleans.
In Chicago, Tribune expects to put chief meteorologist and 30-year veteran Tom Skilling—an institution in the Windy City—and the rest of the station's weather team into the show, although the station's exact plans remain in flux, says Reiner.
If stations don't want to reshoot, they can air Storm Stories as is, with host Jim Cantore walking viewers through tales of tornadoes and hurricanes.
“Our mission is to provide our customers with an experience that encompasses all of weather,” says Ray Ban, executive VP of programming and meteorology for the channel. “One dimension of weather is shock, awe, drama, excitement—the emotional side of it. Storm Stories was developed to help capture all of that.”
Today, two half-hour episodes of the show air at 2 and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday on the network. The show goes off The Weather Channel's air in June with 150 episodes in the can.
If all goes well, Morgan hopes to go back into production on the show: “Mother Nature today is producing episode 151 for us. Weather is a subject that continues to give us dramatic stories.”
Storm Stories also could set a precedent for The Weather Channel, which in January launched another successful unscripted primetime program with When Weather Changed History. That show premiered to the biggest audiences ever for TWC.
The future is a bit cloudy for the network, however. Its owner, privately held Landmark Communications, has put the channel up for sale with a price tag of $5 billion. Media conglomerates NBC Universal, Time Warner, CBS and Comcast all are said to be looking at the deal, according to reports, and offers could start coming in this week.
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