As technology advances, it's increasingly obvious that almost any piece of hardware can be used as a weapon, if put in the wrong hands. We can't exactly ban people from brewing their own beer at home because it's possible that they could also incubate a bioweapon with the same equipment. But how about re-purposing weapons for peaceful missions? NASA has inherited a couple pretty nice spy telescopes, and there could be plenty of other scientific uses for certain military hardware.
But then something interesting happened. When The Weather Channel executives tried to up the rates on cable operators like DirecTV and Verizon FiOS, both companies balked -- and pulled The Weather Channel from their lineups, replacing it with channels, apps and services that actually reported the weather. Apparently, threatening to pull your product from the market if you don't get more money -- only works when people give a damn about your product. Meanwhile, cable companies are having a harder time pushing off programming rate hikes to consumers awash with alternative options.
Initially, The Weather Channel executives responded by trying to claim DirecTV and Verizon were threatening public safety by pulling access to an invaluable public resource (an argument that fell flat on its face since most realize the channel doesn't actually provide that). Then, the company amusingly tried to attack competitors like AccuWeather by actually claiming it offered too much fluff. But with a little time to think about it, The Weather Channel executives appear to have finally learned something.
"The plan calls for a singular focus "on our unique strength -- and that is the weather." With the cable channel bundle coming under increasing pressure, and "skinny bundles" becoming more common, "it's inevitable that channels will be cut," Weather Company CEO David Kenny said in an interview. With this in mind, "we need to be really clear who we are," Kenny said.
That means paring back its original programming investments (shows like "Prospectors" and "Fat Guys in the Woods") and lifestyle coverage. The priority is essential, live weather coverage -- particularly during periods of severe weather -- and local information.
Granted there's only so many ways you can monetize a quick glance at the five-day forecast, and filling twenty-four hours of eyeball-grabbing airtime in the smartphone era without catering to nitwits will likely be a continued challenge. But it's at least a positive sign that the company sees the cable TV landscape changing and needs to either change with it, or be left behind.
For this week's awesome stuff, we're looking at some devices that help you monitor, track and control things that are useful to monitor, track and control.
Most people's knowledge of the weather is limited to forecasts, the thermostat, and looking out the window. The savvy may check live atmospheric maps and other data, but few people are able to build their knowledge based on the full synthesis of information available to them. WEZR aims to change that: it's a weather monitor that combines forecasts with a variety of live data and its own array of sensors to derive specific, hyper-local and constantly-updated weather conditions and pipe them to your smartphone. It then shares sensor data to help improve accuracy for all users.
Anyone who's kept houseplants has also, at some point, let one die — while some of us have given up the endeavour entirely after minor massacres. Planty aims to make the task of caring for plants a little easier and smarter: it's a wi-fi connected planter pot that monitors soil, temperature, light and water levels and sends you alerts when upkeep needs to be done. Even better, it includes an automatic watering system that you can remotely control to feed plants exactly what the amount of water they need from anywhere.
Home appliances are getting smarter and smarter, but not everyone has the funds or even the desire to replace all of their stuff just to get access to some time-saving features. That's why devices like this are so cool: they add some of those features without requiring a complete upgrade or even significant alterations. Meld is an automated range knob that simply clips onto your existing stove and communicates with a wireless sensor that goes inside the oven. It can be programmed to make automatic, on-the-fly adjustments throughout cooking according to the needs of the specific dish. Not only does this make life easier, it vastly improves the accuracy of cooking temperatures since the average range is poorly calibrated.
Last year, we noted how The Weather Channel's tendency to air a higher volume of fluff and nonsense was harming the company's leverage and negotiating power when demanding higher rates from cable operators. DirecTV, you'll recall, responded to The Weather Channel's demands by simply pulling the channel and replacing it with weather services that, well -- actually reported the weather. Amusingly, many users found this to be an improvement over the channel's usual approach to reporting the weather: funny pictures of buffalo, photos of "sexy beaches," or programs like "Prospectors."
Having not learned a valuable lesson, last month The Weather Channel made the same demands from Verizon, which, like DirecTV before it, simply responded by replacing the weather channel with AccuWeather and directing users to apps that actually forecast the weather. Initially, The Weather Channel tried to claim Verizon was toying with the public's safety. It then launched a website aimed at generating outrage among viewers, urging them to contact Verizon and complain.
Except, given the growing disdain consumers have for a company that has increasingly stumbled away from its core mission, none of this appears to be working. As such, The Weather Channel has come up with a great new idea: mocking other weather organizations for focusing too much on fluff, and not enough on the weather. In a letter to employees, The Weather Channel CEO David Kenny calls Verizon "reckless" and urges employees to cancel all Verizon services. He then tears into AccuWeather for focusing on hippos during a recent tornado emergency in Oklahoma:
"We saw that last Wednesday night, when we featured live coverage from Oklahoma. Interestingly, Accuweather took a shot at the NWS for calling the tornado potential “low” that day, yet the Accuweather network itself, as you can see in the image below, was not even covering weather during Oklahoma’s severe outbreak. Here’s their coverage on the left:
Yes, hippos swimming."
Yes, that's a channel that has been mercilessly mocked for years about its tendency to air fluff, attacking other channels for airing too much fluff. For good measure, The Weather Channel decided to up the ante and launch a new media and print campaign that also mocks AccuWeather for showing hippos when a tornado struck Oklahoma:
AccuWeather CEO Barry Meyers quickly responded to the ad campaign by pointing out that AccuWeather isn't offered in Oklahoma. He also ponied up some advice about stones and glass houses:
"In 168 hours of week, the amount of programming they have devoted to real weather is really small,” Myers said. “People need to judge what that means." "People need to ask themselves what The Weather Channel is so afraid of,” Myers added. “They’ve had a virtual monopoly for 30-some years. They almost lost with DirecTV , and they have lost with Verizon. Competition is good, and it offers people choice and strengthens products."
The Weather Channel does slowly appear to be learning that you don't have much negotiating leverage when nobody thinks your product is very good. Serious coverage has ramped up slightly and its website's dumbest videos now at least have some tangential connection to actual weather forecasting. Still, it would be nice if The Weather Channel could learn this lesson without the heavy dose of head-spinning hypocrisy.
Last year, we noted how The Weather Channel was starting to have a hard time getting cable operators to pay the kinds of carriage fee increases the channel is looking for. That's of course in large part thanks to the fact that The Weather Channel increasingly focuses on fluff and nonsense (photos of the world's sexiest beaches, anyone?) instead of oh, forecasting the weather. These struggles have only been compounded by the fact that these days, all manner of apps can quickly tell you the weather while The Weather Channel is busy talking about wacky buffalo with "ginormous" tongues.
Apparently, the company hasn't learned its lesson quite yet. Verizon this week decided to pull The Weather Channel from its channel lineup after the channel demanded notably higher rates. In a note to subscribers, Verizon was quick to point out that, hey -- it's not like reconstituting reports from the National Weather Service is really all that difficult in the Internet age:
"Verizon’s agreements to carry The Weather Channel and Weather Scan have expired, and have not been renewed. In today’s environment, customers are increasingly accessing weather information not only from their TV but from a variety of online sources and apps. Verizon is therefore pleased to launch the new AccuWeather Network, which will be available on FiOS® TV on channel 119/619 (HD) and on our free FiOS Mobile App starting March 10, 2015."
"Customers turned to social media and the Verizon website today, March 10, in support of The Weather Channel, which for more than 30 years, has been the most trusted resource for disseminating timely information to help prepare and protect families across the nation against weather-related emergencies."
Apparently nobody at The Weather Channel has been getting the memos stating that their increasing failure to actually report the weather has made the channel a laughing stock. Cable companies are having a harder time pushing off programming rate hikes to consumers awash with alternative options (whether that's a weather app or Netflix). As such, cable companies themselves are starting to push back harder at broadcasters like The Weather Channel (or post Colbert and Stewart Viacom) that demand higher programming fees for lower-quality product.
If you offer a smash hit product like "Breaking Bad" or "Mad Men," you can often demand higher carriage rates. If your claim to fame instead is programs like "Prospectors" -- or creating a nation of weather neurotics by naming every flimsy storm that comes down the pike -- you're going to have a harder time as the pay TV market begins to finally evolve.
from the you're-really-not-very-good-at-your-only-job dept
The Weather Channel has been well-deserving of mockery over the last few years, whether its for their efforts to sex up storms by naming them (in the process creating a nation of weather neurotics who become hysterical about drizzle), or for an ocean of TV and website content that has absolutely nothing to do with the weather (here's some funny faces, yuk yuk). As such, their recent battle with DirecTV over retransmission fees doesn't find the company getting much sympathy. Especially when the channel tries to argue that people will die without their inane assortment of non-weather-related content.
Normally in such retransmission disputes the content company has some leverage over the satellite or cable TV provider because what they're withholding has somewhat irreplaceable value to the viewer (say, like "Breaking Bad"). In The Weather Channel's case, their belief that they somehow held an exclusive over weather forecasting, combined with the fact that they have increasingly gotten worse at their one and only job, has given DirecTV the upper hand in the ongoing feud. After pulling the channel from the lineup back in January, DirecTV continues to battle The Weather Channel in a very simple way -- by simply offering viewers the weather for a change:
DirecTV on Monday unveiled a suite of new weather services for its subscribers, including a feature that allows customers to gain access to local weather information at any time...The satcaster said customers tuned to WeatherNation can press the red button on their remote to access instant local weather conditions and outlook. Later this week, short term and extended weather forecasts by zip code will also be integrated into the live WeatherNation broadcast and run automatically on the channel every 10 minutes.
Surely being offered actual information on the weather will outrage viewers who love sitting through a half hour of off-topic infotainment and dreck just to get the snow forecast totals for their neighborhood. Seriously, without The Weather Channel, who'll tell us which celebrities like to hunt or provide recipes for cheesy chicken bites? Usually these retransmission feuds resolve with cable and satellite companies buckling and agreeing to some sort of significant hike (then passed on to you), though with the sort of stuff The Weather Channel has been producing in recent years, it's not clear if customers will want DirecTV to cave.
In previous stories where a television channel goes to war with DirecTV and its peers, the mantra by the channel requesting a higher contract is typically the same: our entertainment provides value beyond what we're paid. That was the case when Viacom held its fans hostage in one such dispute, for instance, or when the far-more-sane AMC had a similar dispute. The point is that it always seems to come down to nothing more than money, where the dispute is over how much monetary value a channel has to a broadcaster. Nothing more, nothing less.
Not so, when it comes to the Weather Channel's dispute with DirecTV. Sure, they similarly want more money, but their response campaign to DirecTV bristling at the request while offering a different, televised weather channel is, shall we say, slightly more melodramatic and massively more aggressive.
Usually when cable channels and distributors go to war over money, the two sides warn customers that a blackout will be inconvenient. This time, the Weather Channel is saying it'll be downright dangerous. The channel has tried to rally the public's support by reminding people that it is an emergency lifeline during severe weather.
"The Weather Channel isn't just another TV network. It's a must-have resource that keeps families safe," proclaimed a headline on Weather.com.
Hmm, so the idea is that if DirecTV doesn't meet the Weather Channel's price demands, the weather monster is going to kill everyone? That'd be one hell of a provocative argument to make if it wasn't made, you know, at the damned website from which everyone can also get that life-saving information. The argument not only pretends that DirecTV isn't offering a different weather channel that would serve a similar function, or that there are various web-based methods for getting weather reports and alerts via computer and/or smartphone and mobile device, but it also ignores the Weather Channel's own services.
This irony doesn't appear to be lost on DirecTV.
DirecTV executives say that, contrary to the Weather Channel's positioning, there are many other sources for urgent weather news these days, including WeatherNation.
"When information is readily available everywhere, it's no longer necessary for people to have to pay a premium," York said in a telephone interview. He also asserted that the Weather Channel devotes up to 40 percent of its programming schedule to "reality TV shows."
I don't know what the actual outcome of this dispute will be, but it would appear the emotional argument that everyone is going to die without the Weather Channel on DirecTV is one that should and will fall flat on its face. Good try, though, guys.
Unusual cloud formations and strangely diffracted sunlight are fascinating phenomena, and more amateur photographers are capturing these ephemeral meteorological events all the time now. So instead of chasing chemtrail conspiracy theories, we can document weird-looking patterns in the sky and try to figure out how/why they happen. Here are just a few examples of some crowdsourced meteorology.
Water is an amazing substance. It's sometimes called the universal solvent. It's a requirement for all known forms of life. It's one of the rare chemical compounds that is less dense when it's frozen at ambient conditions. Water is cool, and ice is even cooler. So here are just a few links related to visually stunning ice formations.
As more and more amateur photographers take their cameras with them everywhere, there's been a huge increase in awesome pictures on the internet. It's not just pictures of babies and cats, but also interesting meteorological phenomena that previously went undocumented. Here are just a few cool (and somewhat rare) quirks of the weather that have been captured on film SSDs.