Weather Channel Expands Programming Offerings

It's not just about the weather anymore.

The Weather Channel, that 20-year fixture on cable that has specialized in local forecasts every eight minutes, has been expanding its programming to include a weather-themed magazine show, several lifestyle vignettes sprinkled throughout the daypart, and for the past four months, a weekday documentary that features video of the world's biggest storms and how people survived them. And while the magazine show isn't going to survive the year, the vignettes will be infused with new features and the new show, Storm Stories, will inhabit the 8-9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific program block on The Weather Channel.

Patrick Scott, president of The Weather Channel, said that these initiatives and others are designed to increase the network's share in primetime. It's already got a high share- averaging a 0.35 rating and a 1 share - during the morning when its signature weather-shows, Your Weather Today and Weekend Now, air. There's a higher reach in the evening (60% cume) but the length of time isn't as long and Scott said The Weather Channel wanted to change that.

Along with an in-depth look at national and local weather developments called Evening Edition, The Weather Channel also has experimented with long-form programming in the primetime block. One of the earliest, StormWeek, was a weeklong blitz of storm-related documentaries that run in April and October. It remains on the schedule. That led in 2000 to Atmospheres, a magazine-style show that featured stories about the weather and how it affects business, industry, leisure pursuits and lifestyles.

Scott said Atmospheres "didn't move the needle" and was moved to weekends. But research discovered that one part of Atmospheres' approach - the stories of people caught in deadly storms and how they're rescued - tested well and sparked Storm Stories. That hour-long show, narrated by Atmospheres co-host and meteorologist Jim Cantore, premiered Jan. 3 from 8-9 p.m. weekdays. That's done so well The Weather Channel has plans to expand Storm Stories to seven days a week in October. Atmospheres would go off the air in the expansion.

That 8-9 p.m. block will be supplemented by other projects, including the twice-yearly StormWeek (which Scott said would be revamped in October) and a new program, Forecast Earth, produced in association with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A five-part series on El Nino - the first in The Weather Channel-NOAA partnership - will run beginning tonight. Three other 30-minute Forecast Earth documentaries will run later this year, focusing on coastal storms, the science of forecasting storms and a NOAA satellite that monitors global environmental conditions. There are plans for more specials but nothing has been decided, Scott said.

Scott said that despite the specials, The Weather Channel's mission of providing weather information hasn't and won't change. Breaking weather coverage will always pre-empt the programming block. On Storm Stories and other documentaries, The Weather Channel has redesigned the screen with the lower third layout that has enriched local information so that viewers will always get the local forecast.

"We're never going to go away from the franchise," Scott said.

The short-form vignettes sprinkled throughout the daypart include features on travel, medicine, gardening and home. At next week's upfront, the network is announcing a new vignette with the working title "Road Show." That program, which will start sometime in the fourth quarter, stands on its head one of The Weather Channel's primary appeals - coverage of bad weather.

"Bad weather is serious but good weather is fun. We're going down that road as well with a light-hearted look at a good weather, a kind of 'Weather Unplugged,'" Scott said. Live and taped segments would focus on the fun side of weather and locales with pleasant or extraordinary conditions.

It's not the first upfront The Weather Channel has held, although it will break new ground in terms of approach. Scott said previous upfronts had centered on the trust and safety attributes of the channel, which boasts one of the highest scores on brand attributes in the cable universe. "This upfront we have next week is gong to be the first one that majors on the programming," Scott said.

The Weather Channel will also road test its new slogan, which builds upon the "Live By It" theme that it had been using in past years. The new slogan: "It's not about the weather. It's about life." Scott said that The Weather Channel is much more than just the forecast. "It's about how the weather affects you, it's about where you are, where you go," he said.

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