Members of Congress are under pressure to intervene in an escalating dispute between the Weather Channel and DirecTV.
Lawmakers in recent days have received about 300,000 calls, emails and faxes protesting DirecTV’s decision to drop the Weather Channel from its subscription service, according to a House Republican aide.
A sample constituent email in support of the Weather Channel’s position obtained by The Hill slams DirecTV’s decision to drop the channel.
“By dropping it from the lineup, DIRECTV is forcing me to live without a vital resource — one that protects my family and my community,” the email stated. “They're taking away crucial, life-saving information without giving me any choice in the matter.”
“Please help keep the community that you represent safe,” the letter added.
The two companies are locked in a battle over fee contracts known as carriage agreements. DirecTV wants to pay fewer fees to the NBC-owned Weather Channel. The channel, meanwhile, wants an increase.
Last week, DirecTV dropped the Weather Channel from its lineup, in a move that the head of the channel’s parent company, David Kenny, called “reckless.”
Andrew Reinsdorf, DirecTV’s senior vice president for government affairs, told The Hill that the dispute involved “two private companies” and should not warrant lawmakers’ attention.
“I don’t see the nexus with Congress,” he said.
Nonetheless, the satellite provider has received “inquiries from congressional offices,” about the dispute, Reinsdorf said.
“We eagerly explained our side of the negotiations,” he said.
The Weather Channel argues that consumers need to be able to watch their programming to prepare for major storms or dangerous weather conditions. The channel claims that it teams up with emergency and humanitarian groups at the local, state and federal level to help people before, during and after severe weather events.
“If the network is not available to viewers, the effectiveness of these partnerships, which help make us a more weather ready nation, are jeopardized,” Kenny said in a statement after DirecTV’s announcement.
DirecTV says consumers get their information about severe weather online, on local TV channels or a variety of other ways, and aren’t reliant on the Weather Channel to learn about incoming storms. The satellite provider also offers WeatherNation, a similar weather news channel.
“There are myriad sources for weather and I think, in this information age, nothing is irreplaceable and no one has a monopoly on weather,” Reinsdorf said.
DirecTV has also criticized the Weather Channel for switching up its format. By producing less weather analysis and more taped shows like “Coast Guard Alaska” and “Prospectors,” DirecTV says the channel has steadily lost its value as an information service.
“The response from our subscribers has been very positive whereas the Weather Channel has evolved into more weathertainment — their word not mine,” Reinsdorf said. He noted that about 40 percent of the channel’s content is based on reality TV.
The Weather Channel is fighting back with the help of Washington lobby firms.
Late last year, its parent firm, the Weather Company, hired lobbyists at the Glover Park Group and the Duberstein Group for the first time to help with “legislative monitoring and outreach related to carriage dispute[s],” according to disclosure forms. The two companies were paid $160,000 for their work over the last three months of the year.
Now it’s taking direct aim at DirecTV with a new website that tells the company’s customers how to cancel their service and switch to other satellite or cable providers. The Weather Channel said more than 100,000 people have pledged to switch from DirectTV because of the dispute.
The channel also made a major ad purchase this week. Kenny, head the Weather Channel’s parent company, wrote an open letter in The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post urging DirecTV to waive the fees for customers who want to drop the service.
“Your customers were never given a vote about DIRECTV’s decision to drop The Weather Channel,” Kenny wrote. “The least you can do is allow them to vote now with their feet by waiving termination fees for those seeking to switch to a provider that still carries The Weather Channel, as every other pay-TV company in the nation does.”
The ad campaign comes as Washington and other Eastern cities are blanketed in snow and reeling from freezing temperatures.
A winter storm closed the federal government on Tuesday and blanketed Philadelphia and New York with as much as 14 inches of snow.