One year after launch, Fox Weather taking free streaming TV by storm

Late last month, Sharri Berg looked up at her four-way monitor and saw something that left her amazed.

In one corner of the screen was Fox Weather, the 24-hour service that she oversees as president. The channel was deep into its rolling coverage of Hurricane Ian, a category 4 storm that had slammed the southwestern coast of Florida just a few hours earlier that day.

In the other three corners were the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and the local Fox station, WNYW (Channel 5). At that moment, all four channels were showing either a reporter, a meteorologist or a live camera from the weather network she ran.

At that moment, Berg felt a huge sense of validation — across the Fox ecosystem, Fox Weather was not only being recognized by the legacy players in the space, but those channels were actively using her service's roster of talent and technology to enhance their coverage of the storm.

"I knew that we had reached a watershed moment," Berg said in an interview last week with Fierce Video.

It was a massive accomplishment for Fox Weather, the climate-centric channel that launched one year ago today.

A large event like Hurricane Ian requires a lot of preparation time and resources to adequately cover, and Fox Weather ticked both of those boxes: Even before the channel debuted, Fox Weather went on a hiring spree, crafting an A-list roster of over 150 climate scientists, on-air reporters, digital producers and behind-the-scenes talent. It developed a robust website and smartphone app that offers current conditions, forecasts, climate-related stories of interest and localized weather alerts. And it invested in new technology, including weather computers, an armada of storm-chasing vehicles (which it calls the "Fox Weather Beast") and a fleet of thousands of weather cameras stationed across the country.

Digital-first advantage

In some ways, Fox Weather is an anomaly within the broader Fox News Media ecosystem.

Of the four television products that comprise Fox News Media — which includes the Fox Business Network, the Fox News Channel and the streaming service Fox Nation — Fox Weather is the only service that offers free access to every element of its product (viewers don't have to pay to stream the Fox Weather channel, and its website and smartphone apps are free to download and use).

Berg said being a digital-first product has its advantages: "When you have the freedom of this platform, you can try all different things," she said. "You're not restricted by the format, you're not tied to it."

One example came in the days prior to Hurricane Ian: Bryan Norcross, the channel's hurricane specialist who came to Fox Weather from the Weather Channel, began receiving questions on Facebook and Twitter from Florida residents who were concerned about the storm. Norcross and a Fox Weather digital producer arranged a Facebook Live where the meteorologist would answer questions from Fox Weather viewers in real time. When Berg heard about the plan, she decided to drop whatever was scheduled to air Fox Weather and simulcast Norcross' social media Q&A instead.

Berg said the Facebook Live with Norcross fits with Fox Weather's mission of going beyond the forecasts and the data.

"You can invest in all the technology, all the resources, hire all the people you want, and still have a data-centric channel," Berg attests. "But we're going beyond that in the way we're producing, the way we're communicating with the audience."

A breaking news situation can be a logistical challenge for any newsroom, but a severe weather event that has the potential to drag on for hours — if not days — adds its own set of unique circumstances. Anticipating the potential that power outages and infrastructure damage might impact broadcast and cell phone towers (it did), Fox Weather deployed Starlink satellites with its storm chasing vehicles. The Starlink dishes meant Fox Weather was able to provide live pictures from across Florida, in places that other television stations could not. It also meant Fox Weather's talent team became a critical resource across the company, with Fox News and local Fox stations airing live reports from Will Nunley and other Fox Weather meteorologists stationed across Florida.

The storm also gave Fox Weather the ability to tap into its corporate synergy. When Fox Weather's on-air meteorologists and studio talent needed a break, they tossed to live, local reports from one of two Fox-owned stations based in Florida — WTVT (Channel 13) in Tampa Bay and WOFL (Channel 35) in Orlando. When the storm moved to South Carolina, Fox Weather quickly set up a live broadcast with Sue Serio, a meteorologist with Fox's Philadelphia station WTXF (Channel 29), who happened to be on vacation in the state.

"For some reason, I brought my Fox Weather hat," Serio quipped. "I guess I had a premonition."

Going beyond severe weather

Fox Weather's tenacious coverage of Hurricane Ian more than paid dividends for the channel: Berg said Fox Weather grew its audience more than 40% between the hours immediately before the storm made landfall and the hours after it crossed through Florida.

A Fox News Media spokesperson said the channel has grown its overall audience 700% since it launched last October; during Hurricane Ian, Fox Weather logged over 313 million minutes over a one-week period, with 9 million minutes spent watching Fox Weather's simulcast on YouTube.

With electricity and television service disrupted in parts of Florida, many downloaded the Fox Weather app to stream live television coverage of the storm's aftermath. Overall, the Fox Weather app has been downloaded more than 2 million times from the Apple App and Google Play stores. Usage on the app is at its highest point ever, with more viewers interacting with Fox Weather stories and watching the free channel's streams since Hurricane Ian, a spokesperson said.

It stands to reason that viewership and engagement will increase during a severe weather situation. Keeping those viewers afterward is another thing entirely.

Much of Fox Weather's schedule involves live programming, but the channel doesn't just offer forecasts and severe weather alerts. Instead, it pulls climate-related news stories from its network of local stations and affiliates (last week, Fox Weather repurposed a news report from its San Francisco station, KTVU Channel 2, on wildfire insurance), and goes deeper into those stories with live interviews (on Monday, two Fox Weather anchors interviewed the winner of a Florida python capturing contest — the climate connection became clear in the associated web article). Fox Weather has also aired a series of original programs, including a retrospective with Norcross on the 30th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew; a special that examines the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy is scheduled to air later this month, which coincides with that storm's 10th anniversary.

"We built a weather service that tackles weather differently," Berg said. "We're not killing time between severe weather events."

It is also not wasting time in signing distribution deals with live television platforms. As a free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channel, Fox Weather is available across a number of free streaming services — among them, YouTube, the Roku Channel, Comcast's Xumo, Amazon's Freevee and Fox's own Tubi. Fox Weather also has distribution deals in place with several pay television services, including YouTube TV, Fubo TV, DirecTV Stream, Vidgo, Wow! and Verizon Fios, with more expected to add the channel in the coming months.

"We're in this for the long haul," Berg proclaimed. "And we're really just beginning."

Article updated to correct Sharri Berg's title to president of Fox Weather. An earlier version of this story said she was CEO.