Weather Channel mobilizes fans for DirecTV dispute

However, DirecTV says The Weather Channel's efforts have failed to gain traction as consumers turn to mobile devices and the Internet for urgent weather information.

ATLANTA: The Weather Channel is encouraging unhappy DirecTV customers to contact the satellite TV provider and lawmakers after a contract dispute between the two companies resulted in the network being pulled off the air.

The cable TV channel is asking for a “negligible” increase in what DirecTV pays to air it, said Shirley Powell, EVP of corporate communications at The Weather Channel.

“We had been in negotiations for months, so we used that time to prepare and were ready to fire on all cylinders,” she said. “Our first public response was to issue a press release warning viewers that DirecTV was about to drop The Weather Channel from its lineup and to mobilize them to reach out to DirecTV and their members of Congress to prevent this from happening.”

Although Dan York, chief content officer at DirecTV, indicated in a statement that the provider would restore the channel at “the right value,” The Weather Channel president David Clark tweeted on Tuesday that the companies are not talking and his network “is off permanently.” In the meantime, DirecTV has replaced the channel with competitor WeatherNation.

In its outreach, The Weather Channel is stressing that the dispute is also a public-safety issue, as well as its brand position and the fact that it was charging a penny per subscriber for DirecTV to access to the channel.

Because DirecTV is a national service, The Weather Channel, which is owned by Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, has launched a nationwide campaign. It is targeting media outlets in areas that have a high concentration of DirecTV subscribers, many of which are in rural regions. The network has also launched a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook, and it is reaching out to the public through its owned channels, such as Weather.com and its mobile apps.

“If you look anywhere on our website or across our mobile apps, you'll see messaging with calls to action that direct you to a separate microsite, which offers information on DirecTV dropping us and how viewers can lend their voice to our campaign,” said Powell. “We are getting so much traffic that we have just added a blog to provide updates as things progress.”

Additionally, viewers are posting their own stories on the microsite about how the network kept them safe during severe weather events, for example, if they were out of ear's reach from a tornado siren.

When The Weather Channel started negotiations with DirecTV last year, its internal communications team partnered with government relations agencies that specialize in strategy and messaging for these types of issues. In terms of execution, The Weather Channel handled media and consumer relations internally.

Powell did not disclose which government relations agencies The Weather Channel worked with, but said it did not enlist any PR firms in the process.

“As we got closer to the date we would be dropped from DirecTV's lineup if an agreement was not reached, we also engaged a firm to assist with social media,” said Powell. “We knew we simply didn't have the bandwidth to manage the potential volume of tweets and posts.”

The channel is also encouraging employees to extend its social media campaign by urging their friends and followers to reach out to DirecTV themselves.

“When we were finally at an impasse, we then asked employees to encourage their circles to cancel their DirecTV subscription and switch to a service that carries The Weather Channel,” Powell said.

The network is also working with members of Congress to secure their support, and it will partner with the White House to publicize standardized hashtags for severe weather events.

The channel also partners with the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other government organizations which have urged DirecTV to reach an agreement, according to Powell.

For its part, DirecTV PR VP Darris Gringeri noted that the way in which people access weather information has changed considerably due to mobile technology. He contended that The Weather Channel is no longer the primary source of weather news as people turn to mobile devices and computers for instant information or local news for warnings.

“When information is readily available everywhere, it is no longer necessary for customers to pay a premium,” said Gringeri. “Certainly the owners of The Weather Channel should understand that when any commodity becomes ubiquitous, the price decreases.”

He also said that “while The Weather Channel's outreach has tried to upset a lot of [our customers], it's not getting much traction.”

“We haven't seen many customers leave DirecTV,” Gringeri said. “However, we have been inundated with positive responses for WeatherNation. Customers are grateful to have a channel dedicated to hard weather news 24 hours a day, free of any reality show programming.”

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