Weather Channel told staffers this morning it’s moving away from “non-weather” original programming, re-focusing mornings on weather which, yes means the end of Sam Champion’s morning show as he turns his focus to primetime. Al Roker’s Wake Up With Al is gone with the wind as the company moves weekday daytime programming production to Atlanta. Weather expertise will be prized over production, staffers learned this morning, as the company now markets to its loyal core audience. This major adjustment includes the layoff of about 50 from their ranks.
The news is not entirely surprising given that, last month, Weather Channel owners hired a pair of banks to sniff out interest in a sale. NBCUniversal, Blackstone Group and Bain Capital — which bought the company for a sizzling $3.5B in 2008 — pacted with Morgan Stanley and PJT Partners to test the waters for a possible offloading. The owners reportedly began mulling a sale last year. Owners may want only to sell the digital ops, which are valued much higher that the cable network, with Weather Channel valued by the owners at more than $3B, with the majority tied to the d-business that includes Weather.com, Weather Underground and Weather Services International, according to Bloomberg.
Here is a pared-down for length memo sent to staff this morning from David Shull, president of The Weather Channel Television Group:
As you know, we are facing unprecedented challenges in the subscription television business. Cord-cutting, skinny bundles, and new over-the-top (OTT) providers are changing the way people watch television. I joined this team because I believe The Weather Channel is essential in this new environment, and I am even more convinced of that now.
That said, I also know that the only channels that will survive long term are those with unique and irreplaceable value. Having spent the past few months with audience research, our distributors, and our advertisers, I believe our unique and irreplaceable value comes from three things:
Our expert and precise weather forecasts and explanations, which are delivered live with the most current information available.
Our highly localized information.
Our compelling live storm coverage, as the public’s most trusted information source in severe situations.
Focusing on these sources of value also means that we need to reduce our investment in areas that are not unique to The Weather Channel. Specifically, this means reducing original non-weather entertainment programming. It also means tightening our weather focus in the mornings even further.
We regret that this focus means that some of the jobs of our colleagues and friends will be eliminated. This is always a painful thing to do and all of these people deserve our deepest respect and gratitude. Please know that the company will be doing everything it can to help those affected through their transition.
This also means that the way we produce our shows will change. Change is hard, but at the same time, change is also an opportunity to invent new and smarter ways of telling the weather story. I am 100% confident in our collective ability to use our vast resources as efficiently and effectively as possible. I am so humbled by the sense of purpose and mission at The Weather Channel, and I am excited to roll up my sleeves and work with you to execute on our more focused purpose.
The remainder of this memo covers the major changes we are making at The Weather Channel:
Migrate Away from Non-Weather Original Programming.
Refocus Entire Morning to Only Weather.
Prioritize Weather Expertise Over Production.
Market and Program to our Loyal Core Audience.
Streamline HR, Finance, and Communications Support.
1) Migrate Away from Non-Weather Original Programming.
Based on the Nielsen ratings generated, our investments in original shows have been successful. However, in a world where everyone is chasing new original shows, we need to approach the world differently. We need to focus on our unique strength — and that is the weather. We will continue to invest in finding creative ways to explain the weather, but we will no longer greenlight any long-form shows. Over the next year, we expect to add more live hours back to our schedule after airing some great shows currently in development. Our most passionate fans come to us for the weather and the science behind the weather, not our original shows.
2) Refocus Entire Morning to Only Weather.
We will now produce the entire weekday morning block (5am – 10am ET weekdays) in Atlanta, as the NYC studio has simply become cost-prohibitive. We are excited to welcome Stephanie Abrams back to Atlanta to be a key part of this new integrated morning team. Unfortunately, Al Roker cannot move with her given his commitments to “The Today Show” on NBC. But we plan for Al to continue to make appearances from New York on our severe weather coverage and on some new digital projects originating in New York. We are especially grateful to the amazing people in NY who supported “Wake Up With Al” for the past six years, and to Al specifically – we are better for having had his legendary energy on our air every morning for six years and for having had the benefit of his editorial mind and leadership. Thank you, Al. WUWA’s last show will be October 2.
Starting on November 2nd, Sam Champion will move off of AMHQ, where he’s been instrumental in developing our programming, multi-platform strategies, and partnerships. In his new role, he will take the lead in expanding increased weather coverage into our primetime schedule. As part of this, he will work to create regular primetime shows that highlight the intersection of new technologies and weather. Working closely with Nora Zimmett, Sam will create editorial content and host on-screen segments as we launch our new “Local Now” product for OTT providers. His deep understanding of local television will be crucial in helping us build our network of local content with the major broadcast station groups.
On November 2nd, the morning show teams will merge under the continued leadership of Angie Massie, who will ensure that our loyal morning audience continues to get the best weather science and information needed to plan their day.
Over the next several months, you will see us further simplify our branding across all dayparts. Regardless of the time of day, our mission is the same — to provide the best weather forecasts and stories, and scientific expert explanations of those forecasts. Weekend mornings have been highly successful — and a good example of strong weather-only reporting — so, we will continue their winning formula.
3) Prioritize Weather Expertise over Production.
What matters most to our loyal fans is the substance of our content. Our network today looks terrific, and we benefit from everyone’s hard work over the past few years. But we need to focus our resources on weather information and explanation. To be clear, this is not a return to the “man and a map model” pursued by some of our competitors. Our core audience wants more than just the forecasts — they want the science and the stories behind that forecast that only we can provide.
There are innovative ways to provide those stories. We have the best weather experts in the world. We have a base of tens of thousands of weather fans with live video of weather events. We have partnerships with some of the most interesting video technology companies. As we cut production costs, we will launch innovative models for sourcing and explaining weather phenomena.
4) Market and Program to our Loyal Core Audience.
We are shifting our audience and trade marketing efforts to focus exclusively on building the community of weather fans. We will provide innovative technology solutions to these fans to help us report weather wherever it is happening. We will partner with community organizations that are close to these fans to ensure that we’re providing them with the information and insights they need. We will make sure our distributors and advertisers know and understand our fans, and build joint promotions and sponsorships to connect with them.
We are bringing the core TV marketing functions together under David Clark. Annie House will lead the partnership and distribution marketing, creative services, and social audience engagement functions for TV. Separately, the digital marketing team will be led by David Jaye, who will now report to Cameron Clayton. Shirley Powell and Maureen Marshall will continue to lead corporate communications, but they recognized the need to move the consumer marketing back into the business units for better coordination and accountability.
The #WUTV show is a good example of new show models that begin to unify our programming and audience engagement marketing efforts. We are connecting strong, loyal Weather Underground fans with The Weather Channel. The show has had several strong weeks since its launch; we will continue to innovate to build direct links with our most avid viewers.
Our core advertisers also want to reach our core weather fans, and we will continue to work on more endemic and authentic ways to connect our sponsors and our fans on both a national and local level. We do expect new advertising measurement methods to gain traction, and our research team will be helping ad sales and product to develop better ways to reach and measure our audience. The TV research team will continue to be led by Chris Whitely, and will report to Freddy Flaxman, who will now report to me to lead strategic initiatives for the TV division.
5) Streamline HR, Finance, and Communications support.
Several roles were also eliminated today across HR, Finance, and Communications. Again, this is painful, but a more simple and focused business model for TV also requires a more simple and focused support model.
I accepted my role at Weather fully knowing how quickly the media industry is changing. I wouldn’t have joined this company if I didn’t totally believe that we could win. I know we will work through this challenging time and come through it stronger and better prepared for our future. I look forward to going on the journey with you.