The Weather Channel bets on streaming local news

The Weather Channel is betting that as the TV industry loosens the bundle, it can be the go-to source for distributors seeking cheap local news content.

Earlier this year, the company launched Local Now, an ad-free streaming local news channel. It’s currently available on Sling TV as part of the web-TV service’s core $20 monthly bundle, which also offers channels like ESPN, AMC and CNN. Local Now is able to deliver the latest in weather, traffic, news and sports across 210 markets.

This week, it’s launching a mobile app that will open up access to all Weather Channel TV subscribers, and later this summer, it will launch on another web-based TV service.

“Today, the only place to get local news video is a traditional TV affiliate,” said Freddy Flaxman, COO of The Weather Group. “That’s very antiquated. It only comes on a few times a day, and it’s typically a [preprogrammed] 30-minute or hour-long show, rather than giving you the info you want in a more immediate fashion.”

Each 10- to 15-minute Local Now broadcast is updated throughout the day. (The Weather Channel will also break in with live news when the situation warrants it — for instance, right now, it’s providing live coverage of the hurricane watch to Florida residents.)

“We’re not constrained by the traditional broadcast/affiliate model. We’re now wall-to-wall with coverage of a potential hurricane, whereas the local affiliates are obligated to run ‘The Price Is Right,’” said Flaxman.

Local Now is charging distributors like Sling TV “meaningfully lower” than what The Weather Channel goes for, said Flaxman. (According to SNL Kagan, The Weather Channel charges 15 cents per subscriber per month.) As more pay TV companies launch skinny bundles, and even digital stalwarts like Hulu, Amazon and YouTube explore offering bundled TV services, Local Now hopes to be an attractive option.

“The odds of someone downloading yet another app for their Roku or iPad are pretty slim, especially for something like local news,” said Alan Wolk, senior analyst at The Diffusion Group. “This gives Sling, as well as other standalone OTT apps, the ability to have something timely in their content, so that people have a reason to look every day, maybe even several times a day.”

While not the sexiest genre, local news certainly has an audience. In the first quarter of 2016, 93 percent of U.S. TV households watched local news, according to Nielsen, and 75 percent of 18- to 39-year-old pay-TV customers.

For The Weather Channel, local-news content is a logical area for it to expand to because it already has plenty of experience in the area, said Flaxman. The TV channel already does live local news reports every hour. It also helps that Local Now isn’t costly. The product is managed by a team of three people because, outside of the live feeds from The Weather Channel, the video content is automated.

“We’re able to create content at scale, and at a low price,” said Flaxman.

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