Dangerous Thinking: “We’ll ALWAYS Own The Weather”

rainy dayA paragraph in a Broadcasting & Cable article, Stations’ Weather Forecast Looks Cloudy, deserves a few comments, because it overlooks the real problem.

Asking station bosses to rethink what’s long been a vital part of their newscast is no small order. An informal panel of 20 local TV executives revealed a nearly unanimous belief that weather–both severe and uneventful–would continue to draw hordes of viewers even after the digital generation comes of news-viewing age. Only a few suggested it’s worth planning for the day when those conditioned to get their weather at appointed times on television die off, replaced by a generation raised on cable news, Weather.com and smartphones–who would no sooner wait for a forecast in late news than they’d wait for sports scores.

“After the digital generation comes of news-viewing age?” That’s a hefty assumption. Can we really count on this “news-viewing age?” “Replaced by a generation raised on cable news, Weather.com and smartphones?” That’s another assumption, and it’s based on a very surface view of what’s taking place within the disruption.

The article notes Magid research that the local TV meteorologist is the most trusted source of weather information, tripling The Weather Channel. The problem here, of course, is that if you ask local TV news viewers (the qualifier for most of these studies) who they trust for weather, they’re going to say the local TV weather guy.

But the bigger problem with statements that people will continue to rely on local TV is that it misunderstands the disruption. It’s not about convenience or trust or any of the things stated in the article; it’s about the flattening of expertise, of knowledge and information being spread across the masses, and about how people are using all of this to inform themselves, their families and their friends. It’s not about waiting for the news; it’s about becoming the news.

When a tornado is bearing down on my community, you bet I want a local scientist to give me the goods but, aside from that, I can get whatever I need and make my own reasoned forecast for myself. I can look outside to see if it’s raining. I can buy a cool inside/outside thermometer to tell me how hot or cold it is. I can look at a weather map. I can read a radar. Who taught me this? The TV weather people who have for years been conducting classes on-the-air. Who knew that they day might come when at least some would graduate?

The storm chasers that we see glorified on cable are a varied mix of university-trained or self-trained experts, especially in reading radar. Personal meteorology is widely practiced, and the tools for such are everywhere (and free).

So this does not bode well for the future of traditional local media or for the prospect of continuing to “own” the weather in the marketplace. One day, somebody is going to figure out that joining the disruption — actually teaching people to be their own meteorologists — is a path to future relevance for the digital generation.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter.)


  1. Thanks for the helpful post, i’ll keep checking back and hopefully i shall see more of the same. 🙂

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