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Storms Are In, Reality Shows Out As Weather Channel Gets Back to Basics

Leaders of the Weather Channel are looking forward to seeing storm clouds on the horizon.

The Atlanta-based cable channel is vowing to return to basics of programming focused on weather reports and meteorological sciences now that the digital half of its parent Weather Company is to be acquired by IBM in a deal estimated at $2 billion. Weather Channel also plans to launch a customized streaming service designed to be bundled into channel packages from OTT providers such as Sling TV.

The cable channel will continue to be owned by the partnership of NBCUniversal, with a 25% stake, and investment banks Bain Capital and Blackstone, which acquired Weather Co. in 2008 for $3.5 billion.

Weather Channel CEO Dave Shull acknowledged that the channel erred during the past few years in veering some of its focus away from the skies in favor of a slate of personality- and entertainment-driven programs. At a time of turbulence for MVPDs, Weather Channel needs to stick to its knitting to remain a must-have channel in any bundle.

Weather Channel has faced some high-profile carriage standoffs as it sought higher fees in carriage renewal talks. MVPDs were quick to use the channel’s decision to veer away from weather coverage at times as rationale for dropping the channel.

“We’re recognizing that in a world of skinny bundles and a la carte, the unique, strong and precise value proposition that makes us essential is all about the weather and the science of the weather,” Shull told Variety.

Reality shows such as “Fat Guys in the Woods” and “Prospectors” will be phased out. Weather forecasts, storm coverage, beach reports and the like will comprise the bulk of programming.

“Our mission remains to deliver the best storm coverage in the world,” Shull said.

The OTT service will be designed to offer round-the-clock loop of localized weather updates to viewers in easily digestible short bites. Shull sees it as a way of offering live TV in an on-demand world.

“The cord-cutting audience does not want to watch a traditional 30-minute news product,” Shull said. “They want a five-minute report on news, weather and traffic.”

With the separation of Weather Co.’s digital assets, including its heavily trafficked Weather Channel app, the TV side of the company will be able to focus all of its energy on programming and production. The massive weather forecasting operation is going along with the IBM acquisition, with Weather Channel cutting a long-term license deal to use that weather data.

The cable channel, launched in 1982, will have about 400 employees after the separation from the digital and data units. Shull said there are no plans for downsizing the TV staff, and in fact they will likely be beefing up in some areas to prepare for the OTT product launch.

“We’re pretty pumped about the chance to really focus on the TV business,” he said.

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