NBC in a Weather Vein

Network will start digital channel with its local stations

It's a forecast that came true: For months, there were predictions, first reported in B&C, that NBC and its affiliates would form a joint venture to launch a digital weather and news-alert service.

Last week, it happened.

The weather/news channel was hatched in an affiliate/network futures committee brainstorming session, the first of several ideas NBC hopes to concoct to exploit the multiple channels that digital TV makes possible.

They like it because they already have the weather equipment and excess news content that makes the channel an economic no-brainer.

In addition to the core NBC program service, the network says it can launch four additional channels in its digital spectrum.

NBC Television Networks President Randy Falco urged affiliates "to come together to use our collective brands and assets to create new platforms for us to be competitive in the future."

NBC also is losing no time in launching its enhanced Olympic Web site, NBCOlympics.com., in June. The site integrates station Web sites into the national Olympics site for the first time.

In other news, Terry Mackin, executive vice president of Hearst-Argyle Television, who spearheads the futures committee for affiliates, was named chairman of the NBC affiliates advisory board, succeeding Roger Ogden, executive VP of Gannett.

The affiliate meeting last week, arranged because so many station heads were in New York for the TVB conference, was a chance for NBC Chairman Bob Wright to assure affiliates that the network will value the relationship with them every bit as much after the merger with Vivendi Universal.

After the deal closes, NBC gets most-watched cable network USA, as well as Sci Fi and Trio, to go with its other cable properties.

Don't worry, Wright said: "There is one thing that does not change at all with the Universal deal. Our commitment to you and to the network-affiliate system as the engine that drives our entire enterprise."

Of course, Wright likes to stress to affiliates that the new weather/news venture won't go far if stations can't get the FCC to require digital multicast must-carry. "We need digital must-carry," he told them. "We need it to protect our investments in digital. We need it to move forward with the digital transition. And our viewers need it to reap the benefits of digital TV."