Friday, August 5, 2016

Want to buy The Weather Channel?

The Weather Channel may be changing hands again. Sinclair Broadcast Group is kicking the tires, according to The Wall Street Journal. The price bandied about is in the $100 million range.

Whoa. That’s not much for a network that has always been a staple of basic cable and now reaches about 90 million homes. The numbers and a glance at the TV listings tell the story of how an asset was gutted by pathetic management.

Based in Atlanta, The Weather Channel was launched in 1982 and rocked along nicely until the original owners put it up for sale in 2008. NBCUniversal shelled out $3.5 billion with help from private equity firms Bain Capital and Blackstone. When the new sheriff took over that fall, heads started rolling, on and off camera, among them popular forecaster Dave Schwartz, who passed away recently. (R.I.P.)

With the payroll slashed, the hunt for synergies began. “Today” personality Al Roker was enticed to come in early up in New York and host “Wake Up Al.” (Oops, the show was “Wake Up WITH Al.” My bad. Anyway, it was canceled last year.)  Later, the decision was made to weigh down the schedule with BS documentary series like “Highway Thru Hell,” “Tornado Alley” and “Weather Caught on Camera.” That decision recently was reversed. Too late.

TWC tried to brand itself by giving winter storms names like Brutus, Caesar and Zeus. (What? No Pookie or Cousin Ray-Ray?) That never caught on.

It was inevitable that this smoldering trash can fire would draw competitors, and that happened. In 2015, the Verizon FiOS service dropped The Weather Channel and picked up rival AccuWeather. In response to viewer complaints about the documentaries, DirecTV added WeatherNation, which covers everyday weather the way The Weather Channel once did, 24/7.

And now The Weather Channel doesn’t even own its name. IBM bought those rights last year, along with the website and all digital assets, for about $2 billion. IBM plans to marry Big Data with its Watson computer of “Jeopardy” and TV commercial fame.

So Baltimore-based Sinclair, which has the largest local TV portfolio with more than 150 stations, has a chance to add to its budding cable holdings for a relatively small outlay. Consider that it bought The Tennis Channel in January for $350 million.

Sinclair stations are known for promoting right-wing causes. Perhaps it will decide to marry politics with weather forecasts. I hear Roger Ailes is available …

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