July 18, 2024


Unlimited Technology

Fox Weather launches, facing questions over how it will cover climate change

Twenty-five years after conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News, Fox is debuting a 24-hour streaming service Monday devoted to weather, adding to its round-the-clock coverage of news, business and sports.

Fox Weather enters a crowded field in which it will contend with smartphone apps, weather news websites and brand-name TV forecasters, such as the Weather Channel, WeatherNation and the AccuWeather Network, while facing questions over how it will cover climate change, given Fox News Channel’s long history of questioning and dismissing climate science.

The ad-supported streaming service will report national, regional and local weather news in addition to providing regular forecasts, relying on newsgathering teams at Fox News Channel and meteorologists at Fox-owned broadcast TV stations. It is to be launched Monday and be available online, through the Fox NOW and Fox News TV apps, Tubi and the forthcoming Fox Weather smartphone app, which will allow users to tap into long-range forecasts and access local 3-D weather maps.

Fox Weather will face off against AccuWeather’s new ad-supported streaming service, AccuWeather NOW, while the Weather Channel plans to relaunch its TV app as a subscription service early next year.

“I’m so happy and proud of the fact that Rupert Murdoch — who I consider one of the best of the best as far as media moguls — wants to compete with me,” said Weather Channel owner Byron Allen.

“There’s no Muhammad Ali without George Foreman. Nobody’s paying Muhammad Ali to shadow box. We’re going to give people a great show,” Allen said, adding that the Weather Channel is “the heavyweight champion by far.”

Fox is entering a ring where other upstarts have struggled to compete. NBC’s onetime digital weather service, NBC Weather Plus, shut down in 2008 after just four years. “This is a tough business,” Steve Capus, then president of NBC News, told TelevisionWeek. “It has not been a profitable business.”

A Fox spokesperson said in an email that the streaming service has “several title sponsors lined-up for launch.”

Weather requires specialized infrastructure — weather data, forecast models and a team of meteorologists to make sense of them — posing a significant hurdle for new entrants, said Jon Porter, chief meteorologist at AccuWeather.

“We’ve seen so many companies come into the weather space and then either not succeed or decide to move in a different direction,” he said. “The infrastructure that’s required to do news and sports and financial information, it’s a very different infrastructure than what’s required to be successful in weather.”

Having already invested more than $10 million on the venture, according to the Los Angeles Times, Fox says a staff of more than 100 people, including 40 meteorologists, will directly support the weather network while it will also make use of the 120 meteorologists at its television stations nationwide. Its Weather Command Center in New York City will draw from 32 weather graphic systems, radar maps and live cameras spread around the United States.

For Fox, which has seen sponsors inch away from its more polarizing political content, weather offers a potential way to hook viewers without turning away advertisers, analysts say. But questions linger as to how the streamer will cover climate change, given Fox News’s track record of questioning the seriousness of climate change and how much humans contribute. Asked in September if humans had a role in recent extreme weather, contributing Fox News meteorologist Joe Bastardi said that “at the very least, you can’t tell what CO2 is doing.”

A landmark UN climate report published in August details “unequivocal” evidence that humans are warming the planet by emitting heat-trapping gases, primarily CO2.

Fox Weather declined a request for an interview with one of its executives but has indicated that it will take climate science more seriously in its new endeavor. Echoing recent remarks from Fox News Media chief executive Suzanne Scott, Sharri Berg, the longtime Fox executive now heading Fox Weather told Variety, “If you’re asking about climate change, climate change is part of our lives. It’s how we live. It’s not going to be ignored,” adding, “we will be reporting facts.”

Early hires also suggest a more rigorous approach to climate science. Berg has assembled a team of reputable meteorologists from across the country, including Amy Freeze, an Emmy award-winning weathercaster who comes from New York’s ABC affiliate, and Shane Brown, formerly the senior weather product architect at the Weather Channel.

“From hiring decisions, to this rhetoric from their CEO, to this need to have a safe space for advertisers, it does suggest that they could very much embrace climate change in their programming,” said Allison Fisher, director of the climate and energy program at Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog group.

But, she added, Fox Weather will be courting controversy however it covers climate change. If the streamer reports accurately on climate science, it could alienate core Fox News viewers, who have been primed to question it, Fisher said.

“There is a line that they are going to have to walk to keep advertisers feeling like their brand is safe there, but not going too far away from their base,” she said. “If something major happens like a hurricane or a heat wave, all eyes are going to be looking to them to see how they are characterizing it.”

Some experts are skeptical that Fox will embrace climate change reporting. “[Fox Weather] would have the responsibility to tell the truth. But Murdoch has shown himself to be constitutionally unable to do that,” Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said in an email.

Mann, a frequent target of conservative media, including Fox, added, “We should assume, unless proven otherwise, that this network will be used to further promote climate denialism and fossil fuel industry talking points.”

In response, a Fox Weather spokesperson said, “Scientists assuming anything are very dangerous.”

Since the curtain fell on the Trump presidency, the audience for cable news has diminished, with CNN, MSNBC and Fox seeing ratings down significantly, especially among younger viewers. Meanwhile, in a year of unprecedented heat, catastrophic wildfires and devastating floods, the Weather Channel is drawing crowds around severe weather events. The day Hurricane Ida made landfall, the Weather Channel ranked as the number one cable network among daytime viewers aged 25 to 54. Allen said that climate change is a big part of the story.

“I think anybody who’s saying that climate change is not real, they would be at a severe competitive disadvantage,” he said. “Because here’s what we’re finding: Our viewers are saying, ‘Tell us more.’ “

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