Like a jilted lover bent on revenge, The Weather Channel is far from getting over its nasty breakup with DirecTV this past January. The Atlanta-based weather network filed an official complaint with the Federal Communications Commission on February 7, alleging that its replacement network on DirecTV — WeatherNation, which broadcasts to over 20 million homes in the United States — puts deaf and hard of hearing viewers at risk with its sometimes wildly inaccurate closed captioning.
This isn't the first time TWC has tried to rope the Federal government into its contract dispute with DirecTV. Before the network was dropped in favor of its competitor, TWC urged viewers to contact members of Congress to pressure the satellite company into acquiescing in contract negotiations without a hint of irony, seeing that the Federal government runs an entire agency devoted to weather forecasting.
While TWC may have used this as another weapon in their arsenal to wage a War on Weather™ against their budding competitor, the accusations listed in the complaint aren't complete bull.
The FCC complaint by TWC alleges that DirecTV's decision to drop the long-running network and replace it with the relatively young WeatherNation constitutes a "both indefensible and dangerous" denial of time-critical weather information to those viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing.
As punishment, they've asked the FCC to "determine if any of its rules have been violated and assess any appropriate sanctions" against WeatherNation for the inaccurate captioning.
[Screenshot from page 4 of the FCC complaint]
When I first learned of the FCC complaint a few weeks ago, I flipped over to WeatherNation and turned on closed captioning to see the inaccuracies for myself, and TWC's accusations aren't totally unfounded. Most of the captions are about as accurate as one would expect for live television, but many of the words are homophones ("weak" instead of "week") or sound-alike phrases ("skis know" instead of "see snow"). A not-insignificant number of captions were so wrong that I couldn't infer what they were trying to say.
WeatherNation clearly needs to make improvements to its closed captioning system, but the mistakes likely aren't enough to constitute the grave threat to life and property that TWC wants people to believe.
A similar comparison of The Weather Channel's live coverage at the same time could not be conducted as the channel was in the middle of a seven-hour long block of reality show programming.
Not long after news broke of the complaint filed against WeatherNation, The Los Angeles Times reported that the FCC unveiled new rules regarding closed captioning for television programs. The agency "will require that captions match spoken words in dialogue and convey background noises and other sounds to the fullest extent possible," with some leniency given to live programs such as news and weather coverage.
[Image via AP]