July 7, 2021
Weather is taking the media industry by storm. In fact, later this year, Rupert Murdoch is set to debut Fox Weather, a 24-hour streaming channel that promises to do for seven-day forecasts what Fox has done for American politics, financial news and sports, The New York Times reports.
Not to be outdone, the Weather Channel—the granddaddy of television meteorology, broadcasting from Atlanta since 1982—has announced the creation of a new streaming service, Weather Channel Plus, that the company believes could reach 30 million subscribers by 2026.
Amid a waning appetite for political news in the post-Trump era, media executives are realizing that demand for weather updates is ubiquitous—and for an increasing swath of the country, a matter of urgent concern, the Times notes.
In the past week alone, temperatures in the Pacific Northwest broke records, wildfires burned in Colorado and Tropical Storm Elsa strengthened into a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean.
At CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, average viewership for the first half of 2021 fell 38% from a year prior. Concurrently, the audience for the Weather Channel was up 7%.
“All the networks are ramping up for this,” Jay Sures, a co-president of United Talent Agency who oversees its TV division, told the Times, adding, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that climate change and the environment will be the story of the next decade.”
One of his firm’s clients, Ginger Zee, the chief meteorologist at ABC News, now has 2.2 million Twitter followers — more than any ABC News personality besides George Stephanopoulos.
Fox Weather’s impending debut opens a new front in the media wars, but Byron Allen, the comedian-turned-media-baron whose Allen Media Group bought the Weather Channel for $300 million in 2018, insists that he welcomes the competition. “Rupert Murdoch is very smart; he is the best of the best,” Allen said in an interview. “I am not surprised he’s coming into the weather space. Honestly, I would have been disappointed if he didn’t.”
Allen told the Times that he and Murdoch recently met for an hour in the latter mogul’s office on the Fox lot in Los Angeles. “We had a great time together,” he recalled. “Now the world will understand how big of a business the weather business is and how important it is.” (A spokesperson for Murdoch did not comment on the meeting.)
The weather media ecosystem—from iPhone apps to localized subscription sites and umbrella-toting personalities on the local 10 o’clock news—is a lucrative, if often overlooked, corner of the industry, where the battle for attention is increasingly fierce. Advertisers weary of the choppy politics and brand boycotts of the Trump years see weather as a relatively uncontroversial port in the squall.
At Fox, Sean Hannity will not be giving a forecast (yet). But Fox Weather, which will be funded by advertisers, is aggressively poaching star meteorologists from Houston, Seattle, St. Louis and other markets. It is also taking a run at major talent at the Weather Channel, with several Hollywood agents recounting frenzied bidding wars. A top Weather Channel meteorologist—Shane Brown, whose title was “senior weather product architect”— defected to Fox last month despite efforts to keep him.
The Weather Channel already is throwing some shade.
“They couldn’t even get a headline right about Tropical Storm Bill,” said Nora Zimmett, the network’s chief content officer, referring to a FoxNews.com article that some meteorologists criticized because it claimed that a relatively benign storm posed a “massive” risk to the Eastern Seaboard.
“I applaud Fox getting into the weather space, but they should certainly leave the lifesaving information to the experts,” said Zimmett, who worked at Fox News in the 2000s. She called climate change “a topic that is too important to politicize, and if they do that, they will be doing Americans a disservice.”
A Fox Weather spokeswoman shot back: “While the Weather Channel is focused on trolling FoxNews.com for unrelated stories, Fox Weather is busy preparing the debut of our innovative platform to deliver critical coverage to an incredibly underserved market.”
Research contact: @nytimes