Higher rat­ings fore­cast for Weather Chan­nel

The Washington Times Daily - - Television - BY DAVID BAUDER

The Weather Chan­nel is in the midst of a trans­for­ma­tion, one that can be traced in part to an idle af­ter­noon Al Roker spent surf­ing the Web a cou­ple of years ago.

Pleased with the rat­ings earned by some new se­ries, the net­work is in­creas­ing by 70 per­cent the amount of orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming it had planned to of­fer this year, and will de­but at least one new show each month for the rest of the year.

Once the home pri­mar­ily to me­te­o­rol­o­gists stand­ing in front of maps, the new Weather Chan­nel will be fea­tur­ing Arc­tic pi­lots, iron work­ers, wind tur­bine and power line re­pair­ers, and Coast Guard res­cuers in both icy and trop­i­cal cli­mates.

“It’s an evo­lu­tion, not a rev­o­lu­tion,” said Michael Din­g­ley, the net­work’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of con­tent and de­vel­op­ment, who came to the Weather Chan­nel from HGTV 10 months ago. “You want to re­spect the core view­ers, but let’s in­vite new view­ers into the tent.”

That’s an old mo­ti­va­tion for profit-hunt­ing cable net­works, who know the key to suc­cess is grab­bing ca­sual view­ers and hold­ing them. The same forces com­pelled MTV to move away from mu­sic videos two decades ago, and has trans­formed His­tory into more than a place for musty war movies.

The Weather Chan­nel rec­og­nized that it needed things to keep peo­ple watch­ing for longer than it took for the next lo­cal fore­cast to pop up. Past at­tempts at pro­gram­ming, se­ries like “Storm Sto­ries,” tried this with a fo­cus chiefly on the weather. Now net­work man­agers are em­brac­ing pro­grams where the weather or other nat­u­ral force is just one of many char­ac­ters.

The old Weather Chan­nel wouldn’t have con­sid­ered “Ice Road Truck­ers,” His­tory’s hit se­ries about freight haulers brav­ing treach­er­ous con­di­tions in Canada, for ex­am­ple. Now it clearly would, since ear­lier this month the net­work pre­miered “Ice Pi­lots,” about peo­ple who fly in those same con­di­tions.

“Coast Guard Alaska,” which de­tails res­cues in a for­bid­ding cli­mate, has done so well since its Novem­ber pre­miere that the Weather Chan­nel al­ready has or­dered a spinoff se­ries in­volv­ing a U.S. Coast Guard sta­tion in Florida.

The Coast Guard se­ries come from Mr. Roker, who while Web surf­ing one af­ter­noon no­ticed some res­cue videos that the agency had posted on Youtube. He quickly set up a meet­ing with the Coast Guard to put the se­ries to­gether.

View­ers know Mr. Roker pri­mar­ily for trad­ing quips and giv­ing fore­casts as part of the “To­day” show team, but off­screen he op­er­ates a thriv­ing pro­duc­tion com­pany that sup­plies ma­te­rial to Spike, HGTV, A&E, the Cook­ing Chan­nel and now the Weather Chan­nel.

“The pre­vi­ous man­age­ment didn’t re­ally see the big picture,” Mr. Roker said. “They didn’t think the au­di­ence would watch these kinds of shows.”

The pre­miere of “Coast Guard Alaska” in­creased view­er­ship in its time slot by 35 per­cent over the pre­vi­ous four weeks’ av­er­age, Nielsen said. The first “Ice Pi­lots” in­creased the au­di­ence size by 60 per­cent.

The Weather Chan­nel feels freer to of­fer these se­ries partly be­cause up-to-date fore­cast in­for­ma­tion is avail­able through TWC on­line or on mo­bile de­vices, Mr. Din­g­ley said. The Weather Chan­nel named a new chief ex­ec­u­tive in Jan­uary whose top pri­or­ity is ex­pand­ing the net­work’s web­site and mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions.

While the new shows have helped rat­ings, Weather Chan­nel ex­ec­u­tives must be mind­ful of a wary fan base that in­sists upon weather be­ing the top pri­or­ity. View­ers were sharply crit­i­cal last spring — and TWC me­te­o­rol­o­gist Jim Can­tore tweeted an apol­ogy — when the net­work did not in­ter­rupt a movie to cover a tor­nado out­break in Arkansas.

The net­work has ditched movies, Mr. Din­g­ley said. on the best show “ev­ery sin­gle day.”

Miss O’don­nell also was quoted as say­ing she loved work­ing with Miss Win­frey and in Chicago and wished the show had bet­ter rat­ings.

The final episode will air March 30.

THE WEATHER CHAN­NEL VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Two life­guards pre­pare to make a res­cue in a scene from “Life­guard,” a show about beach res­cuers in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The se­ries airs Thurs­days at 9 p.m. on the Weather Chan­nel,

Rosie O’don­nell

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