Given The Weather Channel's recent programming push towards reality shows and away from actual weather, I wandered over to weather.com on Sunday evening to see just how much their site has followed suit. The answer will SHOCK YOU! Or not, because it's The Weather Channel.
After seeing that most of the headlines had nothing to do with the weather, I set out to count how many stories stayed true to the company's name. I typed up a list of every headline on weather.com's front page last night, and each weather-related story appears in bold font.
MH370, snow in the northeast, a lion going "rawr!," a missing baby in a mudslide, locations with clear blue water, a slyly-placed Huffington Post link to pretty southeast Asian destinations, a link to NBC News story about sea anemonies, pictures of the mudslide, pictures of crying MH370 families, nor'easter, "which country is happiest?," expensive dog, deceased child found in the river, another mudslide story, train derailment, "states with the WORST healthy habits," 16-year-old dying during a marathon, floating trash, "she finished then THIS happened," another mudslide story, photographer using light to make pretty pictures, red bull photo contest, "incredible tradition of Nepalese honey hunting," MH370 search pictures, tumbleweeds, "11 chemicals threatening your brain," dinosaurs, underground waterfall, tourists arrested at Machu Picchu, "can machines replace stores?," "no makeup selfies for research," "Shakira's shaking things up," private taxis to space, the same story about photog using light, butterfly wings, "psychedelic water art," science behind bombogenesis, hot air balloon in Turkey, diver taking jellyfish selfies, road trip across Ireland, "mothers need to do THIS," climate change causing year-round allergies, "17 sensational spring superfoods," "the real reason kids want sugar," "the most satisfied countries," and then five promos for online-only miniseries they produced.
On a website called "weather.com," run by The Weather Channel, only 8 of the 50 stories on their front page actually had to do with the weather — 4 were about the mudslide in Washington, 3 were about the nor'easter, and 1 was about climate change.
The Weather Channel has long been criticized by weather enthusiasts and causal viewers alike for straying away from the weather and into the realm of infotainment, opting instead to show reality programming and Sam Champion's faltering new morning show rather than the 24-hour weather coverage that built them into what they are today.
Their website understandably didn't take long to follow the downward trajectory of the network's quality. While their meteorology is sound (comparable to the NWS in terms of accuracy, in fact), the way they present it is unappealing to the educated viewer and reader. Everything is dumbed-down to a snappy title screen or a hokey winter storm name (which is nothing but an advertising campaign, by the way), and presented by someone who is meant to be more visually appealing than meteorologically appealing (bucking the recent trend in television meteorology to focus more on the science than looks).
I've previously dubbed what weather.com is doing as "the Huffingtonpostization of the weather." They take the concept of "clickbait" to the extreme with their headlines, listicles, and click-heavy slideshows that give them an ad impression with every slide you view.
But, as you can expect, The Weather Channel wouldn't have gone to this cheap format if it wasn't a wildly successful profit machine. In a piece titled "You Won't BELIEVE These Weather Channel Headlines! How a network went from chasing storms to chasing clicks," The New Republic's Marc Tracy documents the process and reasons behind weather.com's fundamental transformation during 2013:
And so, over the past year, the non-forecasting part of weather.com underwent a drastic overhaul. That section of the site is now comprised primarily of original, "shareable" content advertised with Upworthy-style headlines, which maximize traffic by attracting clicks and jibing with Facebook's Newsfeed algorithm.
The change has been successful. The non-forecasting content on weather.com more than doubled its page views in 2013, from about 1.2 billion to about 2.5 billion, according to internal numbers. (The site still receives the vast majority of its overall page views—about 13 billion total in 2013, according to comScore, averaging 54 million unique visitors per month—from people checking the forecasts.)
Even those forecast pages that the "vast majority" of visitors are looking for fell victim to the dramatic reformatting. Take a look at my local forecast page from roughly the same time I jotted down that list of headlines.
Even the local forecast page is so bogged down by advertisements and irrelevant stories that you have to scroll down a few times to see your forecast. The local radar is buried more than halfway down the page, and it's smaller than all of the ads and stories surrounding it.
In fact, thanks to that gigantic Subaru advertisement at the top of the page, the only visible weather forecasts in Mobile are that little yellow "fire weather watch" box and the blue "expect dry conditions over the next six hours" box towards the center of the screenshot. If you measure the pixels of those two boxes and compare them to the pixels of the rest of the site, only 2.42% of Mobile's local forecast page on weather.com is actually devoted to the local forecast.
It's par for the course for the new weather.com.
The network's new slogan is "it's amazing out there." Maybe if I go to another website, I'll find out how amazing it's supposed to be.
[Screenshots via weather.com]