By Joe Flint
6:58 PM PST, January 21, 2014
The Weather Channel wants DirecTV to waive its steep cancellation fees for customers seeking to drop the satellite service because it no longer carries the network.
The request is being made in an open letter being sent to DirecTV's board of directors Wednesday morning and in advertisements scheduled to be published in several newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and New York Times.
In the letter, Weather Co. Chairman and Chief Executive David Kenny writes that since the network was dropped Jan. 13, "many thousands have called your customer service centers asking to terminate their contracts since they are now getting less content for the same price. But DIRECTV is threatening them with termination fees of $200 to $400."
Kenny said in an interview that 90,000 people have pledged to Weather Channel to drop DirecTV, but they can't afford to follow through because of the fees associated with canceling their subscriptions.
"They should be allowed to switch when you take something away they really value," Kenny said, adding that "fairness should trump fine print sometimes."DirecTV stopped carrying Weather Channel in its more than 20 million homes after the two sides couldn't come to terms on a new distribution deal. In place of the Weather Channel, DirecTV is carrying a smaller service called WeatherNation.
According to industry consulting firm SNL Kagan, the average fee for the Weather Channel is 13 cents per subscriber per month. The Weather Channel has indicated it is seeking an increase of only a penny, but that DirecTV actually wanted to lower its current fee to carry the service.
"Everybody else is already paying the rate we’re asking DirecTV to pay," Kenny said.
DirecTV declined to comment on the contract talks beyond saying the requested increase was more than one penny. It also would not say how many subscribers have dropped the service since it stopped carrying the Weather Channel.
"It has been immaterial to our business," a spokesman said.
The Weather Channel has waged a very public campaign against DirecTV and has encouraged its viewers to write to Congress to complain about the service disruption.
"Given the increasing frequency and severity of weather-related emergencies across the country, access to timely and accurate weather information is imperative for public safety and, therefore, an issue meriting congressional attention," the network said.
DirecTV has countered that consumers have many options when it comes to checking on the weather and that the Weather Channel has filled much of its schedule with reality fare and moved too far away from its core brand.
As for the Weather Channel's latest maneuver, DirecTV countered: "The vast majority of our customers are telling us a different story and one the Weather Channel may not want to hear.... The two-way dialogue we enjoy with our customers, which is far more reliable than surveys and focus groups, shows they have resoundingly voted for the 24/7 news WeatherNation offers, which more completely meets their demand for dedicated weather information."
If Weather Channel is unable to come to terms on a new pact with DirecTV, ratings for the network will probably dip. Kenny said that hasn't happened yet and he stressed that the network would have no trouble staying healthy without DirecTV.
"It is not a make-it-or-break-it contract for us," Kenny said. "There are a lot of channels that make it with 80 million subscribers."
The Weather Channel is owned by private equity firms Blackstone Group and Bain Capital. Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal is also a minority owner of the network.
ALSO:Fight with DirecTV puts cloud over Weather Channel
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times