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Weather Channel cuts shows and staff amid uncertain future

Weather Channel cuts shows and staff amid uncertain future
Stephanie Abrams, co-anchor of the Weather Channel's "Wake Up With Al," which is being canceled, will move back to the channel’s Atlanta studios. Al Roker will still appear on the Weather Channel from New York. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The Weather Channel is becoming leaner as it faces a cloudy forecast for the future.

The Atlanta-based cable network told employees Wednesday that it is scrapping its general-interest morning show with former "Good Morning America" forecaster Sam Champion on Oct. 30, and will no longer be in the market for unscripted series programs.

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The channel is also shutting down its New York-based early-morning show "Wake Up With Al" with Al Roker of NBC's "Today," on Oct. 2. About 50 of the channel's 1,400 employees will lose their jobs as a result of the changes.

"In a world where everyone is chasing new original shows, we need to approach the world differently," Dave Shull, president of the Weather Channel Television Group, wrote in an internal memo. "We need to focus on our unique strength -- and that is the weather."

The channel has already moved toward live programming that will appeal to weather enthusiasts. Last month, it launched a new daily live show done in partnership with Weather Underground, the website aimed at weather geeks who supply much of its local forecast information. Weather Channel parent Weather Co. bought the site in 2012 for an undisclosed price.

The cost-cutting moves come as the Weather Co.'s owners -- NBCUniversal, Bain Capital and Blackstone Group -- are reportedly exploring a possible sale of the asset. A spokesperson declined to comment on the reports or the status of any sale talks.

Once among the most renowned brands in the cable business, the Weather Channel is coping with changing viewer habits brought on by emerging technologies. The channel is losing subscribers because of the growing number of consumers who want smaller, less expensive cable packages or are choosing to forgo cable altogether and get their video entertainment through broadband Internet connections.

According to Nielsen data for August, the Weather Channel reaches 89.3 million satellite and cable subscribers, down 10.6% from the same month in 2013.

The channel will focus more on developing innovations for its storm coverage -- which delivers the channel's highest ratings -- and a new "over-the-top" streaming video service, Shull said.

Champion, who was hired by the Weather Channel in 2014, will remain at the company in a role in its ongoing coverage and the new over-the-top product.

"Sam will continue to play a pivotal role in the future success of the Weather Channel as we head into this new era and remain a key leader for us, " spokesperson Shirley Powell said.

Roker will still appear on the Weather Channel from New York while his co-anchor, Stephanie Abrams, will move back to the channel's Atlanta studios.

The Weather Channel will air the unscripted series programs it already has in the pipeline, but will not be ordering any new ones.

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