The first time I had a cable feed delivered to my home (a condominium in Stamford, Connecticut), the thing I enjoyed most was the Headline News channel run by CNN. This was before HBO offerings were particularly interesting; and, while "A&E" still stood for "arts and entertainment," the arts programming was pretty seriously damaged by commercial interruptions. Even with commercials, however, CNN had hit on a winning formula (at least for me): "You give us twenty minutes, and we give you the world." Yes, that meant that ten minutes out of each half hour went for commercials; but the remaining twenty were pretty good stuff. Most important was that the content was available pretty much when you wanted it, although it usually helped to start at the top of the hour or half-hour.
It did not take long for weather to get a similar treatment. The Weather Channel had this "on the 8's" schedule that provided local weather information every ten minutes at :08, :18, :28, etc. The rest of the time there was an early version of a "crawl," which usually required more patience than one was willing to spare but was better than nothing in a pinch.
The Headline News formula went the way of the dodo years ago. Now, according to Dave Itzkoff's latest post to the ArtsBeat blog of The New York Times, The Weather Channel is about to make its first venture into flat-out entertainment (as opposed to documentary-like offerings, such as Storm Stories):
In a news release, the Weather Channel said that, for the first time in its 27-year history, it would begin showing movies on a Friday-night series called “The Weather Channel Presents…” Each film will be shown on Friday night at 8 p.m. (when weather-related news is apparently at low tide), and the series is to begin on Oct. 30 with — what else? — “The Perfect Storm.” (The broadcast date coincides with the 18th anniversary of the Nor’easter documented in that Sebastian Junger book and the Wolfgang Petersen film adaptation.)
It will be interesting to see if these movies get ten-minute interruptions for local weather (as well as commercial breaks); but I realized that, as far as my own weather information is concerned, I no longer care very much, since I no longer need to watch The Weather Channel. I get ZIP-code-specific information through their Web site; and Comcast provides me with its own page of local weather information (probably taken from The Weather Channel) when my computer is not connected.
I suppose this is why Headline News no longer feels much obligation to provide headlines. Most of us can get them most of the time through an RSS reader, and some of those feeds provide video as well as text. The idea that television should deliver those headlines through a half-hour package is pretty much obsolete. The BBC does it on their World Service Television programming; but only at the top of the hour, alternating straight news with half-hour features. PBS now gets that feed but provides it through very sparse offerings (on those channels that provide it at all). Al Jazeera English follows the same formula as the BBC; but (surprise!) the American media has yet to distribute their signal through the air, cable, or satellite.
The change at The Weather Channel may be a reflection of a recent change in the chain of command. Bill Carter reported this change for The New York Times last July:
The owners of the Weather Channel, one of the most widely available channels on cable, reached outside the television industry on Monday to select a new chief executive, Michael J. Kelly.
Mr. Kelly was also named president of the Weather Channel Companies, which encompasses the cable channel, seen in 99 million homes, and a variety of Web sites, like weather.com, whose 41 million unique monthly visitors make it one of the leading information sites.
Mr. Kelly had most recently worked in private equity as an adviser to the media-focused firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson, but before that he was the president of AOL Media Networks. He has also worked in newspapers and for the magazine Entertainment Weekly, where he was the publisher for four years.
At the time of his appointment, Kelly said little about where things might be going with one exception:
More important to the future of the Weather Channel, Mr. Kelly said, is the integration of weather information across multiple platforms, from television to the Web to mobile devices.
I am not sure how showing feature films (and competing with other channels doing the same thing during Friday prime time) has anything to do with that "integration of weather information." If anything, it will probably encourage others to follow my path to alternative platforms. Considering Kelly's background, this is probably just the latest instance of an entertainment camel sticking its nose under an information tent. Why should we be any better informed about the weather than we are about what our government is doing about health care reform and the continuing economic crisis?