When NBC Universal shut down Weather Plus at the close of 2008, the channel's 90-plus affiliates nationwide had a variety of replacement options for their digital tier. There was NBC's Olympics-themed Universal Sports channel, along with channels geared toward film buffs, Spanish-speakers and shoppers.
Yet a large number of NBC affiliates opted to stick with weather—many even keeping the Weather Plus name in place, despite the channel officially being disbanded. Some seek to supplement storm coverage with local news and sports, but say offering weather is the most logical use of their digital space. “We still call it Iowa's Weather Plus, but now it's all local, all the time,” says Dale Woods, regional VP/General Manager of Local TV's WHO Des Moines. “We just got rid of the NBC logo.”
When NBC acquired The Weather Channel in July, it made the struggling Weather Plus property expendable. Many station managers started thinking of digital alternatives well before NBC announced in October it was pulling the plug on Weather Plus.
AN EASY DECISION
The decision to stick with weather was a relatively easy one for many. Weather is, of course, the key local news driver, with extreme events giving stations blockbuster ratings. And since viewers in their market had become accustomed to finding round-the-clock weather coverage on the station's digital channel, many felt it didn't make sense to undo those established habits by substituting sports or entertainment for weather.
The three Scripps stations that aired Weather Plus have signed on with the content supplier Weather Central to help program their digital channels. “We stayed with weather because it's a good natural extension of what our brands are,” says Senior VP of TV Brian Lawlor. “We looked around at the other stuff that's available, and it's all OK, but we didn't find anything that has us doing backflips.”
Stations situated in extreme-weather markets, such as Scripps' WPTV West Palm Beach, are particularly keen to give viewers another option when hurricanes and tornadoes approach. That compelled Raycom, with a number of stations along the southeastern U.S. hurricane belt, to create digital weather channels at stations like WIS Columbia, S.C., and WAVE Louisville. “We're still doing weather, though we'll try to give the service more of a local identity,” says Raycom VP of Digital Media Pat LaPlatney. “We feel like it's a good public service.”
Several former Weather Plus affiliates are in the first phase of their new weather channels, but grander plans are in the works. Hearst-Argyle's WXII Greensboro, N.C., will move to the next stage of WXII 12 Weather Plus in about a month, says President/General Manager Hank Price, with more updates and less of a wheel format.
Bonneville International's KSL Salt Lake City airs Universal Sports on one channel, and offers rudimentary seven-day forecasts and local ski conditions on channel 5.3. Bigger things, including an anchor presence and advertising, are being brainstormed for KSL's Live5 Weather Channel. “It's just [basic] information right now,” says KSL VP of Sales Mark Wiest, “but we'll get there.”