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Broadcast meteorology and the supply of weather forecasts: an exploration

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Abstract

Advertising imperfectly translates viewer preferences into demand for programming, and evaluating the quality of news products is difficult for consumers. Consequently the ability of market forces to supply high quality news is a subject of continuing debate. This paper offers new evidence on the supply of news by examining the investments by television stations in weather coverage. Weather forecasts meet the classic economic definition of a public good, yet television stations across the U.S. undertake extensive efforts to provide viewers with weather forecasts. Stations in markets with a higher incidence of severe weather, particularly a higher tornado rate, make significantly greater investments in their own Doppler weather radars and weathercasters certified by the American Meteorological Society. Since television weather can help save lives during severe weather, the supply of TV weather coverage is at least approximately efficient.

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Notes

  1. For discussions of the corrosive effects of commercial pressures on news coverage, see Underwood (1993) and Roberts et al. (2001).

  2. For a discussion of the potential for private supply of weather forecasts at the time of creation of the U. S. Weather Bureau in the 1870s, see Craft (1999).

  3. “The Weather Channel will save lives!” was part of The Weather Channel’s marketing pitch to cable system operators for inclusion in their channel lineups (Batten and Cruikshank 2002, p.97).

  4. Content studies often find that between one third and one half of local TV news stories are “sensationalism” (Ryu 1982; Hofstetter and Dozier 1986; Slatterly and Hakanen 1994).

  5. In almost all cases, stations with their own Doppler radar usually clearly indicated this on their website. If the description was at all ambiguous, the station’s image was compared with website of the local NWS office to determine if they were from the same radar.

  6. A separate seal of approval program existed for radio meteorologists. The Seal of Approval program was superceded by a new Certified Broadcast Meteorologist program as of January 1, 2005, which adds an educational requirement and a written exam. Individuals holding the Seal of Approval are allowed to continue displaying the seal. For more on AMS certification programs, see www.ametsoc.org/amscert/index.html.

  7. For privacy reasons, the contact information could not be used to communicate directly with the seal holders.

  8. The archive is available online at www.spc.noaa.gov/wcm/index.html#data.

  9. The records are available at www4.ncdc.noaa.gov/cgi-win/wwcgi.dll?wwEvent~Storms.

  10. The snowfall data are available at lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/online/ccd/snowfall.html

  11. Flood Rate is significant at the .10 level in a one-tailed test. When Flood Rate is the only included weather variable, its estimate is similar to the full model and does not attain significance at conventional levels in a one-tailed test.

  12. The mean Tornado Rate in hurricane exposed markets is 9.22, almost a full standard deviation greater than the mean for all markets. When Hurricane is entered as the only weather variable, the sign of the coefficient is positive and significant at the .10 level. Although hurricanes occasionally strike the northern U.S. coast, the annual probability of a landfalling hurricane declines sharply north of the Virginia—North Carolina border. Consequently I redefined the hurricane variable to include only TV markets along the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts, but this had almost no effect on the impact of the hurricane variable in either Tables 3 or 4.

  13. The weather variables are jointly significant in each of the specifications in Table 3 at the .01 level except in (b), when significance is only at the .10 level.

  14. The weather variables are jointly significant in each of the specifications in Table 4 at the .01 level except in (b), where only the .05 significance level was attained.

  15. I estimated the specification in column (a) using the count of AMS Seal Holders whose employment in the market could be verified. The results were consistent with those for Seal Holders, with Tornado Rate and Network Affiliates as two of the most significant (statistically and practically) determinants of weather investments. Some differences in the other control variables were observed, with Income increasing weather investment but Population no longer significant. None of the other weather variables attained significance.

  16. Some television markets encompass multiple MSAs and the incentives for news and weather coverage for stations might differ in these markets. To control for this possibility, a dummy variable for multiple MSA television markets was included in both the television station Doppler radar analysis and the market level AMS Seal Holder analysis. In neither case did this variable approach statistical significance and did not affect the inferences regarding the weather variables.

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Sutter, D. Broadcast meteorology and the supply of weather forecasts: an exploration. J Econ Finan 37, 463–477 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12197-011-9186-7

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