Blizzard highlights Weather Channel-DirecTV feud; Congress wants it ended

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With the biggest winter storm in four years ripping up the East Coast, many DirecTV viewers and even House and Senate members are shouting: I want my Weather Channel back.

The storm has put a new focus on DirecTV’s decision to dump the Weather Channel for WeatherNation TV, considered a second-rate substitute by some.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, for example, took to Twitter to complain about WeatherNation and its sometimes haphazard coverage of the country. “@WeatherNation I've been watching for 2hrs. When do you do Midwest? I've seen west coast and New England 3 times I'm getting impatient4 Iowa,” he tweeted.

And a House member quietly sent a letter to TWC and DirecTV brass asking them to continue negotiations and to reach a resolution that gets TWC back into the channel lineup. The reason: Her constituents want the real McCoy.

Even city councils around the nation are considering resolutions asking DirecTV and TWC to return to the negotiating table.

Starting Jan. 13, DirecTV swapped in WeatherNation TV for its 36 million subscribers. It reasoned that the cheaper weather provider would be adequate especially since Americans have access to up-to-the-minute local forecasts on their smartphones.

It’s been a boon for the Denver-based WeatherNation TV, adding some 20 million new homes.

But also drawn criticism from those who miss the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore and the network’s meatier broadcasts. For example, it highlighted WeatherNation TV’s flaws, such as poorly predicting the last ice storm to hit Atlanta.

Their web pages also provide different quality. During Thursday's storm, a check for a Virginia suburb of Washington turned up accurate news on TWC's site. The WeatherNation TV's site was blank.

In addition, TWC is asking the Federal Communications Commission to probe the closed captioning system of its competitor.

The problem: The captions are sometimes a mess and potentially dangerous for those who rely on accurate closed captions, which the FCC demands. In a letter and DVD to the FCC, The Weather Channel gave several examples like the following.

WeatherNation TV audio: “Here in Arapahoe, Nebraska. We are cleaning up here from recent snowfall in Haigtler — about 14 inches of snowfall, over a foot and a half almost in some locations with the drifts. Trenton at about 7 inches, Max at five and a half, Max, one of my favorite words to say, ‘Oogalala,’ at five inches.’ ”

Closed caption: “PILE CURATOR OF PHOTOGRAPHS THAT WE ARE CLEANING UP YOUR FROM RECENT SNOWFALL AND THAT HITLER ABOUT FOURTEEN INCHES OF SNOW FALLS OVER A FOOT AND HALF ALMOST IN SOME LOCATIONS BUT THE DRESS TREND IN ABOUT SEVEN INCHES MAX AT FIVE IN HALF AND WHEN MY FEVER WOULD SAY THE LAW LOW AT FIVE INCHES.”

The industry trade journal Multichannel News, which first reported the closed caption letter, was provided a statement from WeatherNation TV in which it said it is working on the problem: "WeatherNation remains committed to improving its overall captioning accuracy to ensure that all viewers have access to its services."

TWC isn't just playing legal ball with DirecTV, it's also hitting the satellite TV provider on social media. During Thursday's blizzard, for example, TWC tweeted: ""Aren't you glad you don't have DIRECTV?"

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.