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NBC, affils plan for weather

Digi-weather net on horizon

NEW YORK — Peacock affiliates and NBC Universal launched their jointly owned tiny weather net on Monday, saying they want to catch the country by digital storm.

NBC Weather Plus, bowing on the 78th anniversary of NBC’s debut as the country’s first radio net, is among a new breed of networks made possible by the transition to digital.

In addition to broadcasting their main signal, TV stations suddenly find themselves with room left over to carry ancillary channels, however tiny.

The problem: how to get the digital signal into the living room.

So far, only one cable operator –Time Warner — has agreed to carry Weather Plus. That’s in Gotham, where Time Warner digital cable customers can find the 24/7 weather and alert net on channel 731. Digital signal is being broadcast by WNBC-TV.

NBC and its affils are initially rolling out Weather Plus in 15 markets over the next 90 days, including in Sacramento. KNBC-TV in Los Angeles is skedded to begin broadcasting Weather Plus early next year.

Without cable carriage, the ancillary weather channel will only be available terrestrially to households with digital TV sets, greatly restricting its reach.

Hearst-Argyle Television exec VP and NBC Affiliate board chair Terry Mackin said the joint venture is in discussions with multiple cable operators and that he’s cautiously optimistic that deals will be cut. Talks also are under way with satcasters.

“They see us as a way of promoting their digital services,” Mackin said. “I assure you that there will be many more that will follow Time Warner’s example.”

NBC U and the large TV stations groups also are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to require that cable operators carry all ancillary digital channels, just as they are required to carry the primary broadcast signals in any given market.

The debut of Weather Plus, which will be a blend of national and local info, marks the first time in the history of broadcast TV that a network and its affiliates co-own a channel.

NBC U exec VP Brandon Burgess declined to reveal the pricetag for the weather channel, noting programming costs are minimized since content is being provided by the existing weather staff at NBC News and the weather desks at local stations.

“If anything, the local television stations have been built out to do a lot more than they do in terms of weather. The infrastructure is already in place,” Burgess said.

The Weather Channel prexy Patrick Scott said he isn’t worried about the bow of NBC Weather Net, noting his channel reaches 89 million Nielsen households.

“This is a big market and they are late coming in,” Scott said. “But we won’t ignore it. We will track it and see how it goes.”

Bow of NBC Weather Plusfollows the launch of ABC News’ secondary digital cable net, ABC News Now. The tiny 24/7 net was initially slated to go off the air after the Nov. 2 election, but hasn’t been yanked so far.

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