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Weather Channel, DirecTV Trade PR Salvos Over Carriage Talks

Mike White
Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images
DirecTV CEO Mike White

UPDATED: Network president David Clark and new hire Sam Champion compare the channel to a public utility, as the carriage dispute stands to leave 20 million DirecTV customers without access on Jan. 14.

Ahead of a Jan. 14 deadline to come to an agreement on renewing a carriage deal, The Weather Channel and DirecTV are trading salvos over how essential the channel is for hard news about storm emergencies and other breaking weather news.

Late Friday, The Weather Channel began a publicity campaign aimed at raising awareness among 20 million DirecTV customers that the channel would get pulled next Tuesday if there was no deal.

Losing the channel would "be deeply irresponsible to its customers, who not only count on The Weather Channel on a day-to-day basis, but depend on us before, during and after severe weather events," said David Kenny, chairman and CEO of the channel's parent company, in a statement. "We have offered the industry's best rate for our programming and are committed to reaching an agreement."

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Network spokeswoman Shirley Powell addressed the dispute during Weather's Saturday panel at the Television Critics Association press tour. "Right now we're pretty much at an impasse at our discussions. We're still hopeful we're going to reach an agreement, but it's not looking so good," she said. "We're asking for a very negligible increase for the life-saving information that we offer. … Congress really cares about this one because we're such a trusted resource."

"If you have ever been in a severe weather decision and you need to make a decision to protect your family, you need to get your information from a trusted source," added Weather Channel president David Clark, who pointed to tornado coverage as something the network offers better than others. "It might be easy to be cynical about it if you haven't seen it. But if you came to our offices, you'd see the boxes and boxes of letters saying, 'You saved our lives.' We have a mission to serve that we take very seriously."

The Weather Channel new hire Sam Champion, on hand to promote his new morning show, also offered his take. "Sometimes business has to fill in where there isn't a public utility to take care of it. There isn't one," he said. "Getting people ready, getting people prepared, is something I don't take lightly. What we're trying to say is that we want people to have access to it, absolutely we do."

The Weather Channel also started a campaign website that includes a countdown clock urging customers to call their members of Congress about the issue. "Don't Let DirecTV Control the Weather," reads the headline on the site, which emphasizes the public utility function of the channel that helps "prepare and protect families across the nation against weather-related emergencies." 

DirecTV countered on Saturday that much of The Weather Channel's content isn't devoted to breaking news but to "reality television shows." The satellite TV provider also pointed out that it carries an alternative weather channel, Weather Nation, that provides "hard news" coverage. (The Weather Channel is located at channel 362 on DirecTV's guide, while Weather Nation is located at 361.)

"We remain in discussions with The Weather Channel on how to provide its service to our customers at the best value since people now use so many other ways to retrieve weather-related information," the DirecTV statement read in part. "We launched WeatherNation as an alternative to provide 24/7 hard news weather coverage in response to numerous customer complaints that more than 40 percent of The Weather Channel's programming is dedicated to reality television shows." (Clark called the upstart "a fly-by-night alternative" during his TCA presser.)

As The Weather Channel plans digital growth, it has been criticized for naming winter storms and for website coverage that has branched away from forecasts. In 2013, the channel added new series Deadliest Space Weather and Hacking the Planet to its roster of programming.