The Day – Fox Weather takes on the Weather Channel

Amid all the droughts, wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes that have hit America this year, Rupert Murdoch sees an opportunity to make it rain.

On October 25, Murdoch’s media empire will launch Fox Weather, a new 24-hour streaming service, aimed at taking on weather incumbents like the Weather Channel and capitalizing on the increasingly frightening state of the daily forecast. of the earth. As weather events become more intense, Fox Corp. bet consumers crave more than just an iPhone app that tells them the temperature and whether they should carry an umbrella.

“We’re looking to do more than utility weather,” said Sharri Berg, president of Fox Weather.

The new service will air from a freshly renovated studio on the 12th floor of Fox’s Manhattan headquarters, which once served as the anchor office of former Fox News star Shepard Smith. During a recent tour of the new digs, Fox Weather showed off a battery of weather innovations, including something called “The Sky Dome,” a tricked-out studio ceiling, outfitted with LED lights, that will change color in concert with the time of day and the ever-changing whims of the weather gods. When the forecast becomes severe, everything turns red.

“It’s quite dramatic,” Berg said.

The Fox Weather app is free and will generate revenue through advertising. It will feature a mix of programming generated from its headquarters in New York, as well as regional weather updates from Fox’s many local broadcast stations across the country. Among other new features, the Fox Weather app took 3D technology typically used in video games and repurposed it for radar, allowing users to zoom in and out of real-time images of developing storm systems.

“3D radar is something we couldn’t even have dreamed of putting on TV 20 years ago,” said Steve Baron, senior vice president of digital products and strategy at Fox Weather, who has been a meteorologist in markets like Gainesville, Florida, Salt Lake City and Chicago. “Now it works on an iPhone. I think that’s remarkable.”

For sports fans and hardcore bettors concerned about the impact of wind, rain or sun on upcoming games, Fox Weather will pull data and live video feeds from professional and college stadiums through a partnership with WeatherSTEM.

Fox Weather will also aim to make the science of weather more relevant to people’s lives. Users can receive alerts for 42 types of weather. They can learn about funnel or graupel clouds, a type of soft hail. When planning for upcoming life events, Berg said, they can track forecasts months into the future using the same data that many businesses rely on to predict what supplies to buy for the next year. .

“I think wedding planners will want to advertise that,” Berg said.

In taking on an established incumbent like the Weather Channel, Murdoch’s new venture recalls some of the boldest and most successful moves of his career, from challenging ABC, CBS and NBC with the advent of the Fox broadcast network in 1986 to taking on CNN with the launch of Fox News in 1996.

The weather channel, for its part, is not left out. Next year, the network, which is backed by entrepreneur Byron Allen, will launch two streaming services, including one that will offer access to its signature television network of more than 50 news and entertainment channels. Asked about the challenge posed by Fox Weather, Allen said he didn’t feel threatened because of the Weather Channel’s strong trust with viewers.

“It’s not something you get overnight. You have to earn it from the American people over many decades,” he said. “This is a 40+ year relationship with the American public, and I don’t think it will be disrupted in any way.”

On the contrary, he said, competition from Fox Weather will only force the Weather Channel to improve. “There is no Muhammad Ali without George Foreman,” he said.

According to Kagan, the media research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, The Weather Channel is expected to generate $305 million in revenue in 2021, about the same as last year, largely from advertising. and at the expense of pay-TV providers. Going forward, Allen sees the planet’s intensifying weather patterns as an opportunity for meteorologists to play a bigger role in the lives of his clients. Viewers, he said, are “beginning to realize” that climate change is causing more severe weather “as they watch their cars float through the streets of Manhattan.”

From the heat waves in the Pacific Northwest to the cold snap in Texas to the pounding of the Northeast by Hurricane Ida, this year has been particularly dramatic and deadly for the weather. Fox’s big push into the field is drawing skepticism, in part because of how Fox News personalities have dismissed climate change. Last year, Rupert’s son, James Murdoch, took the rare step of publicly criticizing climate coverage by his family’s companies.

Michael Mann, a Penn State professor of atmospheric science and author of “The New Climate War,” called the Murdoch media empire “the biggest promoter of climate change misinformation in the last two decades.”

“We should assume, unless proven otherwise, that this network will be used to further promote climate denial and fossil fuel industry talking points,” Mann said in an email.

Berg took issue with the suggestion that Fox Weather was turning a blind eye to climate change.

“There is no doubt that climate change exists and its effects are part of our daily lives,” she said. “We’re not going to debate it or ignore it. We’re going to translate science and data into understandable information our audience needs.”

Fox Weather has hired about 40 meteorologists across the country. He also brought a number of storm chasers on board who will be rushing to document the many hurricanes and tornadoes that are tearing America apart.

“If you’re a meteorologist and a good storyteller, now’s a good time to be you,” said Carolyn Kane, president of NWT Group, a talent agency that represents meteorologists.

Among the Fox Weather hires are Shane Brown, who previously worked for The Weather Channel, Nick Kosir, a social media star known at a Fox affiliate in Charlotte as “The Dancing Weatherman” and Amy Freeze, a former meteorologist. of WABC-TV in New York. . (Freeze got her start in Portland, Oregon, because someone there thought her weather-evoking last name would make her well suited for the job).

As the weather becomes more extreme, Freeze sees her work as “either a call to action or a soothing voice.”

“You alert people when they need to be alerted,” she said. “Or you let them know it will be fine when there is nothing to worry about.”

Tanya J. Hill