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Why do TV stations interrupt programming for weather reports?

By MixDex Article may include affiliate links

Most TV stations in the United States will offer some kind of report or alert when severe weather is predicted — which frequently affects popular entertainment programming.

  • This can range from simply putting a small weather map and scrolling text of a warning over the current programming, often with a special tone or sound effect.
  • This method is typically the least intrusive, since it gets the warning out while allowing to the program to run — albeit with a slightly map and ticker covering parts of the screen that can affect shows such as “Jeopady!” or sports coverage where on-screen text and data plays a key role.
  • For more severe weather alerts, stations will break in entirely, with a forecaster appearing on camera and giving a full live report on the weather.
  • Sometimes these are done during commercial breaks — often covering one or more commercial that the station will have to made up to the advertiser — so no programming is interrupted. These can be as short as 30 seconds.
  • In rarer cases, some stations may “split screen” or “box” weather coverage so that the show continues to run, with or with its audio, in one part of the screen, while weather maps and other data are shown in another.
  • Other times, however, the interruptions comes at the cost of covering the program’s audio and video.

So why do stations do this?

  • First, it’s important to remember that television stations that broadcast over the public airwaves have to be licensed by a government agency known as the FCC and part of that license includes certain requirements for serving the local community, which weather alerts typically fall under.
  • Even though most people, especially in urban and suburban areas, get local stations over cable or satellite rather than the licensed over the air signal, the conditions of the station’s license still apply.
  • Some stations also have guidelines that dictate when extreme weather updates are delivered.
  • This is often based on the percentage of the viewing area affected — and whether the National Weather Service is issues a watch or warning.

How do I watch the part of the show that my local station covered with weather coverage?

  • In many cases, you may be able to find the full, interrupted episode on the network’s On Demand service if you have cable, satellite or streaming service.
  • In some cases, there may be a delay, such as 24 hours, before it is available, so you may have to wait.
  • Since these On Demand versions are typically provided by the network and not your local TV station, they typically are the full versions with any local weather coverage.
  • If you only receive your television service over the air, your choices are more limited since most network require you to verify you’re a cable or satellite subscriber to view full episodes online. You may be able to buy the episode on iTunes or use Hulu to watch if the program is there, but this can often be delayed by weeks or months.

Why can my friends see the show?

  • In the United States, major networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, The CW and MyNetworkTV have local stations that agree to carry their programming.
  • Local stations mix in their own newscasts or programs as well as buying syndicated programming such as “Wheel of Fortune” to fill the schedule.
  • However, local stations typically have the option to “cover” the network programming in the event of breaking local news or weather.
  • Because of this, if you have friends or family who live in a different area of the country than you and are not affected by the weather you’re having, then its unlikely their programming would be interrupted at the local level.
  • It’s important to note that some special reports, originating from the network, will be carried by most, if not all, stations.