Award Winning Blog

Monday, July 16, 2018

Corporate Welfare, Cronyism and Excess: The AccuWeather Case Study

            Bloomsburg BusinessWeek provides a thorough and distressing account of unsavory business practices originating in my small town.  See  The article reports how President Trump has nominated Barry Lee Myers, CEO of AccuWeather, to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has the National Weather Service (“NWS”) under its aegis.  Might this candidate constitute the proverbial fox guarding the chicken coop? 

            AccuWeather adds value to a taxpayer underwritten, government function.  The company enhances the data it freely acquires.  I have no problem with that.  The company does not participate in a public private partnership, by investing funds in a joint venture with the government.  Instead, it masterfully executes a business strategy of adding human presentation and interpretation of weather data in a graphics-intensive, user friendly format.  So far, the company offers a case study in brilliant execution of a business plan. Bravo.

            Sadly, the company overreaches and has done so for years.  Its lobbying activities and advocacy in Washington, D.C. evidence a campaign to stifle the NWS from doing anything that could reduce the “wingspan” and profitability of the company’s products.  Simply put, AccuWeather wants Congress to restrict public dissemination of NWS-acquired and taxpayer-financed data. 

            Accuweather wants to prevent the NWS from any “retail,” direct-to-public data dissemination and analysis, particularly via direct Internet outlets and indirectly via social networks such as Facebook.  Here the company attempts to bite the hand that feeds it.  The possibility of more scrutiny of its business practices may risk its ability to pay nothing for the data it needs to create profitable products.

            AccuWeather appears unsatisfied with its considerable organic growth over many years.  It perceives the NWS as a competitor who offer content at zero additional cost even as AccuWeather wants payment for somewhat similar products. Already, the public does not see NWS employees on television, or the Internet except for the occasional interview on the Weather Channel and broadcast networks.  Likewise, the NWS web presence lacks the userfriendliness available from AccuWeather. 

            Here’s an example of the rarified product the NWS offers in its Forecaster Discussion section for State College, PA on July 15, 2018:

             "Potent cold front will plow SE through the NW mtns Late Tuesday morning and clear our SE zones late in the day. High PWAT air, increasing deep layer shear and increasingly diffluent flow aloft will set the stage for some strong to potentially severe TSRA depending on the amt of sunshine, CAPE and the exact timing of the cfront."

             They do offer a glossary, but clearly the NWS is no competitor to AccuWeather’s general consumer products.

            The BusinessWeek article shows how Accuweather has undertaken a long term and relentless campaign to limit the scope and reach of NWS work product.  In effect, AccuWeather wants to rely on the NWS for rough data, as evidenced by the dozens of satellite earth stations installed at company headquarters.  AccuWeather receives the data and converts it into something user-friendly and profitable for the company.  In AccuWeathers self-serving mindset, it constitutes rampant socialism and “mission creep” for the NWS to serve the public directly, particularly via the Internet even if a timely Facebook post might save lives.  AccuWeather does not want the risk of liability in being the sole forecaster and outlet for severe weather, but it surely wants social networks and other Internet-based sites as green fields for growth completely free of any government-supplied content.

            AccuWeather’s strategy shows how something smart can become too clever over time as as a company becomes increasingly aggressive in tactics to secure captive markets and growth.  Not content to further mine and extend its well established market presence, the company wants to throttle NWS public outreach.  This does not serve the national interest, because not everyone—even with the widespread use of smartphones—receives forecasts and urgent weather information from value added services like AccuWeather and the Weather Channel. 

            I get my weather forecasts via radio, but not from the fast-paced local inserts originating at the AccuWeather mother ship.  In many locales, the NWS transmits continuously in the Very High Frequency band (around 162 MegaHertz).  I’m sure AccuWeather would like to confiscate my radio, or failing that, to lobby Congress for legislation terminating this option.

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