The Weather Channel, the cable network that has progressively shifted from local forecasts on “the 8’s” to a primetime line up filled with original reality series programming, took another step today toward being more marketing machine than news organization by announcing its plan to name winter storms this year.
To avoid confusion with tropical storm and hurricane names, which are created by the World Meteorological Organization and then used by the National Hurricane Center (an office within the federal government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), many of the names are a bit, shall we say, “different.” Draco, Gandalf, Q and Yogi, just to name a few.
Since tropical storms and hurricanes are named by the federal government, all news organizations feel an obligation to report on them using these names. This creates a common language and ensures the public understands government-issued alerts pertaining to the storms.
What makes this Weather Channel decision more about marketing than news is that it, as a ratings-generating television network, gets to set the parameters for what makes for a “name-worthy” winter storm. In essence, there is a profit motive in exclusively branding severe weather events that have the ability to destroy homes and claim lives.
I can already hear the discussions at TWC headquarters in Georgia: “The eastern seaboard may see six inches of snow and maybe some ice too? Better bust out a name for that one. Ratings gold!”
“Eastern Montana is going to see two feet of snow and 50 mph winds? More elk live there than people and elk don’t drive Nielsen ratings. Let’s not waste a name on that one. We need to save Xerses for the inevitable spring Nor’easter!”
Also, will The Weather Channel allow competing news organizations to use these names without permission or a courtesy mention of TWC? Will any competing news outlets even want to use these names?
This appears to be an unknown and could create a situation where various news outlets are speaking in a different language about the same storm. That’s not good for clarity of information and public safety, which is what TWC is claiming to care about.
News is a business, and we as marketers get that. This business makes it possible for us to create and place advertisements and secure news coverage for our clients.
But in this situation, it appears The Weather Channel is driven more by creating a branded product, complete with fancy graphics, than in delivering weather news in the clearest, most commonly understood way, which is what The Weather Channel should stand for. Marketing is important for any business, but when it gets in the way of your mission, perhaps it goes too far.
-Chris McMurry, SVP, Public Relations Director