(The opinions expressed in this editorial do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of AtmoLife as a whole. We encourage those within our meteorology community who disagree with this editorial to share their own opinions on this subject via the comments section or in a blog post of their own.)
Prepare your hot take cannons folks. I’m about to hit you with an opinion that’s incredibly unpopular within meteorology circles, but first, let’s provide a little background.
A few times every year, usually during tornado season, broadcast mets share emails or phone calls from angry viewers who are up in arms about their favorite shows being interrupted by severe weather coverage of a storm 8 counties away. We lampoon these individuals for their selfish complaints, ignorant of the concept that this severe weather coverage saves people’s lives.
The latest example to circulate through the meteorology community, shared by renown Chief Metorologist James Spann of WBMA-LD Birmingham, struck a different note within me.
No, I won’t be “adjusting and correcting this very annoying programming insufficiency”. pic.twitter.com/X9MBA8mkDu
— James Spann (@spann) November 30, 2016
Spann is right. It’s not his responsibility to make any adjustments. It’s his responsibility to provide viewers with life-saving information, and he, along with countless broadcast mets, bust their asses working overtime to do so. Spann’s severe weather coverage is second to none. Most of us weather weenies around the country remember tuning into the live stream of his emergency broadcast during the April, 2011 tornado outbreak.
Now here’s the hot take: The anonymous viewer is also right. This is in fact a programming insufficiency…or rather, inefficiency. Most viewers are not weather enthusiasts like us, and don’t care for severe weather coverage when it’s not directly impacting them. Would it be possible for local stations to interrupt some of the viewing area (those near the severe weather risk) while the remainder enjoy their regularly scheduled programming?
It doesn’t seem that difficult.
Local stations aren’t still broadcasting exclusively via antenna, right? The vast majority of people receive their local stations digitally now, if I’m not mistaking. I’m woefully uninformed with how this process works, but it wouldn’t require ground-breaking technology for a local network to transmit multiple signals that reach different subsets of viewers.
I’m not sure what the operational cost of creating a multi-signal broadcast entails, but the new setup would certainly provide money saving opportunities down the road. Local TV stations earn their revenue through advertisements. When regular programming is interrupted, so are the commercials. If an emergency cut-in is transmitted only to those in immediate danger, the station can still cash in on advertisement revenue from the commercials seen by the remainder of their viewers.
In addition, networks need to seek ways to stop the bleeding of customers “cutting the cord” for alternative means of digital television. A weather interruption that’s seemingly unnecessary to a viewer has the potential to act as the final straw convincing them to ditch their cable package, and along with it, their local channels. Although some of these alternative TV providers, such as PlayStation Vue, offer local channels, there is clear movement toward viewers hand selecting the programming that matters to them. It is imperative that local stations adapt to the viewer customization movement if they want to stay afloat in this changing market.
Finally, emergency broadcasts are seen as a red herring by those not impacted by the danger. This causes many viewers to not take warnings seriously when an emergency broadcast is in fact related to a threat near them. The removal of unrelated weather interruptions will allow viewers to more adequately heed the warnings that apply to them.
Let’s stop interrupting the programs of people who aren’t in danger. It’s time for local stations to setup a multi-transmission system for emergency broadcasts. We have the technology to do this. We can put a man on the moon after all.
(If you’re a broadcast meteorologist reading this, what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear the opinions those who work for local TV stations. Leave an angry comment below or send us an email!)