It's no secret that the broadcast networks have been shedding viewers at an alarming rate. And, as the economy sinks into a recession, the dinosaur nets face not only eroding audience levels, but declining advertising revenues as well.
So, how are the suits in the executive suite responding? As they normally do, with job cuts and ratings stunts.
Consider, for example, NBC's "Green" initiative. Touting its environmental "commitment," the network has created a website, instructing viewers on how they can "green" their routine, and they've worked the storyline into all of their shows.
Not that any one's paying attention. NBC's prime time audience ratings are down by double-digits this year, and a lot of GE executives can't wait until Super Bowl Sunday to recoup lost audiences and advertising. In the interim, their network is limping along with its environmental theme, looking for any hook or storyline to advance their eco-marketing ploy.
Even NBC's enormously popular (and profitable) "Today Show" is not immune. Last week, as part of the November sweeps, NBC news dispatched Today newsreader Ann Curry to climb Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro and report on its disappearing ice cap, supposedly the result of global warming.
But as Michelle Malkin and Newsbusters report, the network wound up with egg on its face. Given only three weeks to train, Ms. Curry never made the summit. And, her reporting on Kilimanjaro's vanishing snow cap was based more on hype, rather than fact.
With a little baisc research (you know, the stuff journalists are supposed to do before embarking on a story), Marc Sheppard of Newsbusters found that deforestation, not global warming, is the real reason for the shrinking ice mass on Africa's highest peak.
In an October of 2003 Nature Magazine piece, Betsy Mason explained why researchers blamed not global warming, but deforestation:
"Without the forests' humidity, previously moisture-laden winds blew dry. No longer replenished with water, the ice is evaporating in the strong equatorial sunshine."
A June 2007 study published in American Scientist, found that Kilimanjaro's melting had been going on for more than a century and most had occurred prior to 1953, when atmospheric CO2 levels were quite low. "Complex interacting factors" including a process called sublimation, which "occurs at below-freezing temperatures and converts ice directly to water vapor without going through the liquid phase" were cited.
That same year, South African nuclear physicist Dr. Kelvin Richard Kemm wrote in Engineering News that "It is not hot air melting the ice, but direct sunlight." Unlike the American Scientist team, Dr. Kemm stated as "scientific fact that there has been no measurable atmospheric warming in the region of Kilimanjaro,"based on satellite measurements of the region since 1979.
So what is causing the ice cap to melt? Once again, due to deforestation by locals "there is much less wet air moving up the mountain than there used to be, so less ice forms at the top."
Another effect of deforestation "mainly due to extensive farming" was named as recently as this August, in a report compiled by researchers Nicholas Pepin and Martin Schaefer of Britain`s Portsmouth University, who spent 11 days surveying the mountain`s glaciers. They too explained the drying effect a lack of forests cause, adding that:
"Loss of humidity automatically leads to a reduction in cloud cover. Clouds play a crucial role in protecting ice from sunrays, with fewer sunrays meaning faster freezing of water."
Mr. Sheppard also discovered that the NBC crew ignored basic safety guidelines for high altitude acclimation, increasing their risk for potentially-serious medical problems. But the snow-job had to go on, and Ms. Curry was a willing dupe.
Of course, a televised expedition to Africa is an expensive proposition, so NBC-Universal is facing an accounting challenge. How do you pay for a ratings stunt, with minimal impact on the corporate bottom line?
That brings us to GE's newest broadcast acquisition, The Weather Channel. While Ann Curry and her crew were climbing Kilimanjaro, the weather outlet was announcing major budget cuts. At least three on-camera meteorologists have been dropped, and in a bit of environmental irony, The Weather Channel's entire environmental unit was dropped.
Best known for such programs as "The Climate Code," and "Forecast Earth," the environmental crew offered no pretense of objectivity on its pet issue, global warming. In fact, their "climate expert," Dr. Heidi Cullen, once suggested that broadcast meteorologists should lose their credentials if they challenged the "scientific consensus" on the subject.
Despite heavy promotion, the environmental show never attracted much of an audience, and efforts to turn Cullen into a TV star were equally disastrous. "The Climate Code" was quietly cancelled, and Dr. Cullen was relegated into a secondary role on "Forecast Earth," fronted by former CNN (and MSNBC) anchor Natalie Allen.
While few viewers will mourn the TV demise of Heidi Cullen, the cutbacks also claimed two Weather Channel veterans, Dave Schwartz and Cheryl Lemke. While Ms. Lemke was something of an acquired taste (her broadcast style always struck us as mechanical an dull), Mr. Schwartz was one of the most popular on-camera mets at TWC. Not only was he adept at explaining the science of meteorology, he also reflected something rare at the channel: a genuinely engaging personality.
In their place, NBC will likely insert some of the younger (and cheaper) talent from "Weather Plus," the meteorology channel it started a few years ago. "Weather Plus" never caught on with viewers, prompting GE to spend more than $1 billion acquiring The Weather Channel from Norfolk-based Landmark Communications. The deal was finalized just months before the financial markets (and GE stock) tanked.
Still, General Electric is determined to turn its broadcast operations around. While the highly-paid anchors of "Today" are in no danger of losing their jobs (or a salary cut), meteorologists at The Weather Channel are definitely in danger. NBC and its parent corporation can't afford two weather outlets, and they'll run the "name" channel just as cheaply as they can.