Fox News gets into the weather business. Will climate-conscious viewers take it seriously?
Whenever consumers are asked to name their primary reason for tuning into a TV newscast, the No. 1 answer is always the weather.
Cable news channels of every political stripe see their ratings rise when a weather event occurs, and climate change is increasing their severity and frequency.
It's why Fox News Media is investing more than $10 million in a new digital service called Fox Weather that will be available as a free, live, 24-hour ad-supported streaming video channel available as a mobile app and on internet-connected TVs through services such as Tubi. It will also be seen on over-the-air TV stations reaching 26 million homes.
The service launching Monday will test the elasticity of the Fox News brand name.
While the flagship news network at Rupert Murdoch's Fox Corp. is the most-watched channel on cable TV, its conservative commentary has become more polarizing in recent years. Fox News has come under fire recently over how its opinion hosts have stoked public skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccines, at times with misinformation.
Fox News commentators have also been largely dismissive of climate change. Last year, prime-time host Tucker Carlson described climate change as "systemic racism in the sky," and he raised doubts about its impact on the wildfires that swept the West Coast.
The attitude spilled into the news coverage last month, when one of Fox News' anchors, Bill Hemmer, put quotes around the term climate change during coverage of extreme weather that caused flooding in New York City.
The political stance raises the question of whether viewers who eschew the channel for the right-leaning political bent of its most-watched hosts will trust a weather service with the Fox name.
The company will face well-established competitors such as the Weather Channel, the leading national TV source of weather information for 40 years. AccuWeather, which has supplied forecasts to consumers, media outlets and corporations since 1962 and has ramped up its own cable channel, recently launched a video streaming service called AccuWeather Now. Colorado-based WeatherNation also supplies forecasts to TV stations and cable systems throughout the U.S.
Shari Berg, a 25-year veteran of Fox News who is overseeing the new venture, said the Fox Weather service will deliver accurate information to users and treat climate change as a reality.
"Climate change is part of the way we all live now," Berg said in a recent interview at Fox News headquarters in Manhattan. "We won't be debating it. We're going to cover it with science and facts and data. I have zero oversight for Fox News prime time and they have zero oversight over Fox Weather."
Amy Freeze, a veteran meteorologist who joined Fox Weather from the Walt Disney Co.'s WABC-TV in New York, fried an egg on a sidewalk in Newark in 2011 when the area had its hottest day on record. She also covered the two biggest blizzards in New York City history.
Explaining the science behind such extreme weather events has become part of the job. "It's something we should be talking about, whether it's getting warmer colder, wetter, drier," said Freeze. "All of those things encompass what we're doing every day."
Berg said she has already assigned a meteorologist to cover the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow this month. "We will have a team who will listen and learn and report," she said.
Bill Hague, executive vice president of the research firm Magid, said Fox Weather will have no choice but to play it straight if it wants to be a viable competitor, even in an age where advocacy and opinion have seeped into TV news.
"With the weather, you've got to be right," Hague said. "It's an area where consumers don't mess around."
Fox News Media Chief Executive Suzanne Scott pushed the idea of a weather service as part of the company's effort to expand its brand name and tap revenue streams beyond cable television. While the Fox News Channel continues to generate robust profits, the pay-TV universe that provides the bulk of its revenue is on a slow but steady decline.
The company has put its name on a streaming service, Fox Nation, which offers lifestyle and entertainment programming that appeals to its news audience, and according to analyst estimates now has more than 1 million paid subscribers. Fox News also launched a book publishing imprint in November that has turned out two bestsellers, including anchor Shannon Bream's "The Women of the Bible Speak," which has sold more than 500,000 copies.
For Fox Weather, the company hired a staff of 100 people, 40 of whom are accredited meteorologists. Along with Freeze, who started her career at KTLA in Los Angeles, the company recruited Nick Kosir, known as the Dancing Weatherman, a Charlotte, N.C., meteorologist whose TikTok routines have accrued 2.5 million followers.