Weather Channel Takes Aim at WeatherNation Captioning at FCC

In one of the latest volleys in the carriage battle between Weather Channel and DirecTV, Weather has asked the FCC to investigate the quality of WeatherNation's closed captioning, tying it to the "irresponsible" decision by DirecTV to carry WeatherNation.

The satellite operator essentially replaced Weather Channel with WeatherNation after failing to reach a carriage agreement with the former. Weather Channel has been off DirecTV since Jan. 13.

In a letter to the commission dated Feb. 7, Weather Channel conceded that it started monitoring WeatherNation captions because of the dispute with DirecTV. It also conceded that captioning "fast-moving" weather can be a challenge and it may make its own mistakes "from time to time."

But it charged that WeatherNation captions--which it does not fail to emphasize are "transmitted on DirecTV"--are "so inaccurate that they nearly defy description."

Along with its letter, Weather Channel includes a DVD of clips from WeatherNation and a transcript of the captioning, which indicates some problems with accuracy.

For example, in a segment on winter storm watches, the transcript of the audio reads: "As well as winter storm watches for the blue shaded areas. That's going to be the next system that spreads across the Chicago area, perhaps up towards Flint." The transcript of the captions is effectively indecipherable: "AS WELL AS WHEN THE STORM WATSON'S FOR THE BLUE STATE IN AREAS BAFFLING TO ME THEN NEXT IS DOWN THAT SPREAD DECRIES THE CHICAGO AREA AND SOME ORANGE FLAMES."

"Weather programming frequently involves disseminating severe weather information that is crucial to viewers' life and safety," Weather Channel told the FCC. "DirecTV's decision to deny that information to its deaf and hard of hearing viewers is both indefensible and dangerous. Moreover, several viewers have complained publicly that they are not receiving WeatherNation's closed captioning at all when viewing the channel on DirecTV. The Commission should investigate the captioning practices of DirecTV and WeatherNation to determine if any of its rules have been violated and assess any appropriate sanctions."

The FCC is currently vetting an item, launched by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, that would require broadcasters, programmers and MVPD's to deliver more accurate captions, but it also recognizes the challenges of real-time captioning.

"The Weather Channel applauds the Commission's apparent decision to adopt explicit rules requiring closed captioning material to meet certain quality standards," Weather Channel said. "New rules, however, should not be necessary for the Commission to investigate, and, if appropriate, sanction DirecTV and WeatherNation for their failure to make WeatherNation programming available to DirecTV's deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers."

Saying it was a programmer issue, a DirecTV spokesperson deferred a response to WeatherNation, which said it was working on improving its captioning.

"WeatherNation offers closed captioning of its broadcast and has deployed the enCaption3 platform to improve the accuracy of real time captioning," the company said in a statement. "WeatherNation remains committed to improving its overall captioning accuracy to ensure that all viewers have access to its services."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.