Fox News enters new battleground in cable weather

Cable news wars? How about weather streaming news wars?

Fox News Media is venturing into the weather news industry with this week's launch of Fox Weather, an effort to bolster its streaming services and amass a larger audience outside of politics and sports.

With its big bet on weather, Fox is entering a crowded field of climate news providers, where it will compete daily with smartphone apps, local television broadcasts and household-name brands like The Weather Channel and Accuweather. 

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The push into weather by Fox comes as industry experts say the audience for weather news is expected to grow in the coming years as climate and weather-related events impact the physical, financial and emotional well-being of more people around the world each year. 

“I would be very disappointed if he [Rupert Murdoch] didn’t come into this space, because it is a very important space,” Weather Channel owner and president Byron Allen said in an interview with The Hill this week. “I think there’s more than enough room in this particular space ... to have a number of players. What’s happening now is people are starting to connect the dots and understand what climate change and global warming really means.”

A brainchild of Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott, Fox Weather was launched after two years of planning and strategizing by top brass at the company and its tapping of Sharri Berg, the chief operating officer of news and operations for Fox Television Stations, to serve as the platform’s first president. 

When it went live for the first time on Monday, Fox Weather debuted for viewers a state-of-the-art storm-tracking and radar equipment that the New York City-based team will use to provide content for the Fox Weather app and other platforms. The streaming channel will also have an integrated website and show local, regional and national weather as well as live programming drawn from for meteorologists in many Fox-owned local stations across the country.  

“The entire team has worked meticulously to develop a fresh, innovative approach to forecasting with tools like 3D radar and the 'FutureView' to super serve the loyal audience that we have cultivated over the last 25 years,” Scott said in a memo to employees this week. 

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Fox has hired more than 100 staffers, including dozens of meteorologists, to its national weather team and has invested a reported $10 million in the venture, injecting a major dose of capital into the weather news business by one of the largest corporate media players in the world. 

Fox Weather’s competition in the streaming space is likely to be fierce, with AccuWeather, which reaches an estimated 1.5 billion people across the world each day on its various platforms, over the summer launching AccuWeather NOW and The Weather Channel planning to roll out its own subscription-based streaming service before the end of the year. 

“It’s another data point speaking to the importance of weather and climate information to people around the world,” said Jonathan Porter, senior vice president of weather content and forecast operations at AccuWeather. “[Fox’s push] certainly mirrors what we see when it comes to increasing demand for our services across all the consumer facing products that we provide and also the business-to-business products that we provide.” 

Fox Weather will have to demonstrate it can compensate for a wide range of unique capabilities AccuWeather has developed since its founding nearly 60 years ago, Porter said. 

Other major cable news companies have tried in recent years to launch weather-specific platforms with limited success. 

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In 2008, NBC Universal shut down its digital weather service, “NBC Weather Plus” after just four years following the company’s purchase of a minority stake in The Weather Channel, TVWeek reported. 

“It’s a very difficult business climate these days. You can’t ignore those realities,” then NBC News President Steve Capus said at the time. “Even if the Weather Channel acquisition hadn’t happened, this was a business that was challenged. We were going to have to face that at some point.” 

Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, noted that Fox is betting that its big wager on weather, a staple of local media broadcasts nationwide, will help it poach viewers from other networks and their affiliates as it aims to stand out amid the crowded digital media landscape. 

“There are a fair amount of people, particularly in a broadcast context, that the biggest thing they want is weather news,” Edmonds said. “They [Fox] certainly have the resources, but I think it may be quite an uphill climb to break people away from something they’re fairly satisfied with.” 

Berg said in a recent interview that top leaders at Fox, before its new weather platform launched, conducted a “very intense consumer research project,” that revealed ways in which Fox Weather could set itself apart from the onslaught of weather information permeating the public sphere. 

“We looked into the marketplace and saw an opportunity that would create one comprehensive place to get all your weather coverage,” Berg said. 

When it comes to brand loyalty, Allen, of the Weather Channel, said he would not be surprised to see “a lot of folks” who watch Fox News regularly for news and opinion content turn to the company’s new streaming weather service. 

“They’re really good at what they do,” Allen said. “And there’s plenty of room to do more of what we’re all doing.”