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Weather Channel Goes Back to Roots, but Branches Out to Future

Dave Shull isn’t a weatherman – well, strictly speaking – but he thinks he knows which way the wind blows.

Shull has more familiarity with wind patterns, barometers and precipitation than the average person. He’s the chief executive of The Weather Channel, the cable-TV network backed by a consortium of The Blackstone Group, Bain Capital, and NBCUniversal. And since he arrived there in the Spring of 2015, he has tried to keep the network true to its name.

Gone are series like “Fast Guys in the Woods,” about a coterie of unlikely survivalists, and “Prospectors,” which followed miners in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. In their place: more chatter about weather and the science behind it. “I dug into who the core viewers were, trying to understand 34 years of history. What was driving their loyalty to the brand?” he said in an interview. “A lot of it boiled down to trust and the scientific explanation behind the weather.”

Shull’s vision of what Weather Channel should look like carried clout even before he arrived at the cable network. He served for years at Charlie Ergen’s satellite-distributor Dish Network, which in 2010 and 2015 sparred with Weather Channel executives over carriage contracts. He rose to be the outlet’s chief commercial officer and executive vice president.

Now, he says, he’s overseeing an effort aimed at getting Weather Channel back to its roots. The canceled series “were great shows from an ad-sales perspective,” he noted, “ but they were not true to the brand promise of storms and science.” He also rejiggered the tone of the network’s morning-news program. AMHQ, which had been built to showcase Sam Champion, the former “Good Morning America” weather anchor.

The moves have had impact. In the quarter to date as of December 7, total day ratings have risen 46% among viewers between 25 and 54, the demographic coveted most by advertisers in news programs. Primetime ratings, meanwhile, are up 42% in the same category. The network’s early-evening program, “Weather Underground: has seen viewership in audiences between 25 and 54 rise 89% over the year-earlier period, according to Nielsen.

Weather Channel in the past has been no stranger to disputes over its programming. In 2014, the network butted heads with DirecTV, which charged the weather network was airing too many shows that had little to do with the topic that formed its brand. The fracas resulted in a temporary blackout of the network on DirecTV’s satellite service, the first time since Weather launched in 1982 that a distributor took it off the air.

Shull says he has plans for the future as well. Weather executives, he said, are “developing a technological infrastructure that will allow us to provide on demand” localized information via broadband.  under his plan, a user with a Roku, Apple TV or similar service might pull up information on weather and traffic – even local news headlines or sports scores. “You don’t have to wait for the weatherman to come around,” Shull said. “This would be live, instantaneous, personal weather,” he said. “We think we’re in the very early days of what is going to a very exciting reimagining of local news.”

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