Fox looks to shake up weather with new streaming channel

Hurricane from space
At least one analyst questions whether consumers want a streaming weather service. (Getty Images)

Fox Corporation is hoping to replicate its success in the fields of general entertainment, news and sports with the launch of a new, ad-supported streaming service dedicated to weather coverage.

Next month, the company's Fox News Media division will formally debut Fox Weather, a free streaming weather network complemented by a robust website and mobile apps that the company says will offer its audience unparalleled coverage of weather-related events.

The service is the latest ambitious push into the direct-to-consumer streaming space for Fox since its $440 million acquisition of ad-supported streaming service Tubi in 2020. But unlike Tubi, which launched six years earlier, Fox is building Fox Weather from the ground up.

RELATED: Fox buys Tubi for $440 million

It is, apparently, sparing no expense: According to recent job listings and information provided by a company spokesperson, Fox Weather will utilize a slate of high-tech weather radars, including an immersive mobile 3D radar that will offer viewers a new way to visualize current and emerging weather patterns. The service will also tap into more than 100,000 high-definition cameras located across the United States, as well as cameras, meteorologists and reporters at Fox-owned local stations and affiliates.

And it has poached top talent from competing networks to lead the charge, including meteorologist Greg Diamond and weather data expert Shane Brown, both of whom previously worked at the Weather Channel. Other meteorologists hired by Fox Weather include Jason FrazierCraig HerreraNick KosirBrigit Mahoney, Britta Merwin and Stephen Morgan, all of whom joined the network after serving in weather-related roles for local television stations.

Leading the effort is Sharri Berg, the chief operating officer for news at Fox's owned-and-operated television stations, who relinquished her executive role at the Fox News Channel in order to serve as president of Fox Weather. (The two fall under the Fox News Media division of Fox Corporation, but are otherwise separate products.). 

Fox Weather
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courtesy logo from Fox

"There is no one better to lead this new venture than Sharri Berg," Suzanne Scott, the CEO of Fox News Media, said in a statement last year. "Sharri is an immensely talented executive with extraordinary leadership skills and a unique ability to collaborate and execute across multiple divisions."

The Weather Channel trajectory

The idea of offering a television network dedicated to weather is not new: In the early 1980s, a meteorologist founded what became the Weather Channel, a network whose biggest mark on the industry was the development of satellite-driven computer technology that allowed millions of cable and satellite subscribers to get real-time, hyperlocal weather information in the pre-internet era.

Eventually, smartphone apps that did the same thing rendered the Weather Channel's local forecasts obsolete. In recent years, the Weather Channel has shifted its focus away from rolling weather forecasts toward knowledge-based programming with shows like "Storm Stories" and "Highway to Hell."

The move toward entertainment left some long-time Weather Channel loyalists disgruntled. In 2011, Performance One Media sought to lure those fans with a new network called WeatherNation, which promised comprehensive weather forecasts without the entertainment fluff. Four years later, weather data provider AccuWeather launched a national cable network with the same idea in mind.

Fox Weather wants to exist somewhere in the middle by offering fact-based weather information delivered by meteorologists and other scientists with the polish and extravagance that has come to define the Fox brand in other areas.

Elements of Fox Weather have already started appearing on television: Over the last few weeks, Fox Weather meteorologists offered updates, analysis and forecasts during Hurricane Ida and Tropical Storm Nicholas on Fox News and Fox Business. That type of brand synergy is expected to grow, according to a Fox spokesperson, and it offers a preview window into what viewers can expect when Fox Weather formally launches next year.

Advertisers have also started to take notice

"Companies that are not our traditional advertisers [are] showing tremendous interest in Fox Weather," Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch said during an interview at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference on Tuesday.

"Weather is something that all of our audiences care about, and it's going to be a tremendous business really driven by the source of advertising interest that we're already seeing coming onto that platform," he said.

Kirby Grines, a consultant who runs the streaming media marketing company 43Twenty, said the launch of Fox Weather continues a trend of media companies breaking off elements of their cable offerings for direct-to-consumer streaming services.

"All of your cable entertainment networks are diversifying their business and creating their own streaming services," Grines said. "This is kind of the same thing."

Those cable networks include the Weather Channel, which recently announced plans to enter the direct-to-consumer market with its own subscription streaming service. Last month, AccuWeather launched AccuWeather Now, a free, ad-supported version of its AccuWeather Network, with distribution on the Roku Channel and Comcast's Xumo.

Fox has the chops, but do consumers care?

But Fox has a history of carving out its own space and one-upping the competition. In the late 1980s, founder and then-CEO Rupert Murdoch proved that a fourth broadcast network was possible with the launch of the Fox Broadcast Network. The network's edgy dramas and sitcoms changed the prime-time television landscape forever.

A few years later, Fox doubled down on its broadcast efforts by committing hundreds of millions of dollars to secure much-coveted broadcast rights to National Football League games and other live sports, a gamble that led to the creation of the prestigious Fox Sports brand where pre- and post-event coverage was just as entertaining to watch as the game itself. (They also invented a permanent on-screen score graphic, then known as the "Fox Box," which is industry standard today.)

Nearly a decade after Fox hit the scene, Murdoch announced plans to shake up the cable news space, taking on Ted Turner's CNN with the launch of the Fox News Channel. Despite an increasing trend of consumers switching from cable to streaming, the channel remains the most-dominant cable news network in the United States.

None of these franchises were an instant home run for Fox. They spent years proving their worth, but not before receiving a considerable amount of skepticism. Some are equally skeptical that Fox can turn rolling weather coverage into a viable streaming business.

"Why do they think that works?" Dan Rayburn, a principal analyst with research firm Frost & Sullivan who is an expert on streaming media businesses, said in an interview. "What data do thy have that they can show that this is something consumers are asking for?"

Rayburn also wonders if Fox will be able to produce enough daily content to scale the streaming service, though he concedes few details are actually known about the type of programming that the streamer will offer at launch.

"From what it sounds like they're saying, almost all the content on this channel is going to have to be produced," Rayburn said. "That is expensive."

But some in the industry think Fox Weather will prove the detractors wrong once again. Former television reporter Doug Brauner spent more than two decades working for various outlets, including a 12-year stint with a CBS-owned duopoly in Sacramento. There, Brauner said, it was not uncommon for managers to pull him off a planned story to cover breaking news — and, often, inclement weather played some kind of role in that coverage.

"Ratings went up when there was severe weather — and with climate change, we know there will be plenty of weather," Brauner said in an interview this week. "These days, a company like Fox doesn't have to spend a lot of time or money finding severe weather. They don't have to spend a lot of time creating content — the content is practically coming to them for free."

Brauner said it was "absolutely predictable that a media company like Fox" would seize on an increased interest in severe weather spurred by climate change to bring a weather-related product to the market — and he thinks Fox Weather will be a rousing success.

"They're going to do for the weather what they did for the NFL," he affirmed. "They're going to glamorize it, people will tune in, and their coverage will become part of the news cycle."