NBC stations launch Weather Network on digital channels

WNBC-TV was the first station in the country to launch NBC’s new 24-hour Weather Plus channel via Time Warner Cable. The network hopes the joint venture will generate new revenue for itself and its affiliated stations.

Under discussion internally for many months, NBC Universal announced last week the formation of NBC Weather Plus, a joint venture between the network and its affiliated stations. This will be the first 24-hour, digital broadcast network dedicated to local and national weather programming.

The network’s flagship station, WNBC-TV, in New York City, initiated the national-local broadcast last week to Time Warner Cable’s digital customers in the region. As the network rolls out across the country, consumers will be able to view NBC Weather Plus with digital over-the-air receivers or via cable or satellite providers.

The NBC Weather Plus network will roll out nationwide in phases, according to NBC Universal, with the first stations owned by broadcast groups such as Belo Broadcasting, Hearst-Argyle Television, Post-Newsweek and The New York Times Company. The markets have been targeted to include all time zones, regions and topographies to allow testing of “L-Bar” technology in different environments, and the optimization of the network's digital broadcast infrastructure before the full rollout is completed some time next year.

Mike Doyle, a spokesman for NBC Universal, said that participating stations would share their 19.4Mb/s of digital spectrum and allocate up to 3Mb/s for the new Weather Plus channel. Through the use of digital compression, Doyle said the network does not compromising the integrity of existing HD programming.

The technology used to create the L-Bar is being supplied by weather graphics provider Weather Central, enabling NBC Weather Plus to present local weather forecasts in real time (a first for any weather network). The information is updated with new data continuously via satellite and the Internet.

The broadcast will feature a balance of national and local coverage and ads, with live broadcasts throughout the day from national and local forecasters, and a mix of real-time video, meteorological reports and 3D weather maps and graphics. The NBC Weather Plus screen will also include space for national and local advertising.

The first 15 markets launching over the coming 90 days are WESH-TV, in Orlando, FL; KCRA-TV, in Sacramento, CA; WXII-TV, in Winston-Salem, NC; KING-TV, in Seattle; KGW-TV, in Portland, OR; WCNC-TV, in Charlotte, NC; WDIV-TV, in Detroit; KPRC-TV, in Houston; KFOR-TV, in Oklahoma City; WRC-TV, in Washington, DC; KXAS-TV, in Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX; WNCN-TV, in Raleigh, NC; WMAQ-TV, in Chicago; and WTVJ-TV, in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

NBC Universal said it has commitments to carry the new channel from TV groups owning NBC affiliates cover 50 percent of U.S. households and 10 of the top 20 media markets. The remaining NBC affiliates will be invited to join the venture in 2005. The new weather network will use more than 1000 local reporters and meteorologists in more than 200 markets.

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