As schools, offices and restaurants around the country close their doors to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus, what people want from their TV networks is likely to change. And with kids at home for the foreseeable future, parents could certainly use some help.
With that in mind, The Weather Channel has incorporated hourly educational programming breaks targeting students from elementary through college to make sure kids aren’t completely missing out on their daily dose of science while away from the physical classroom. It’s also covering of COVID-19, but with a focus on debunking myths and giving practical, science-based tips to viewers on how to stay safe.
TWC’s mission is to “protect and save lives in all sorts of disasters,” said Nora Zimmett, evp and chief content officer. Its main focus is the weather, of course—especially on the brink of tornado season—but Zimmett noted that TWC is the only live news network run by scientists.
“We found it important to be able to communicate fact and fiction about the COVID-19 virus from a science perspective to our viewers,” said Zimmett. To do that, TWC has created myth-busting videos that explain why certain things being said on social media about the novel coronavirus aren’t true, for example that cold weather can kill the virus or that mosquitoes carry it. (Neither of those things is even close to the truth.)
Though the network doesn’t have any data on broadcast ratings or viewership yet, viewership for its new climate-focused social media channel, Pattrn, is up 57%, according to Zimmett. “What we’re trying to do with that brand, again, is explain the science about how this is working and how to protect yourself as opposed to the politics of what’s happening,” she added.
Pattrn, available on social media networks and YouTube, is also featuring the same educational programming that TWC is airing at 50 minutes past the hour, every hour. Each educational clip is between three and six minutes long. Some clips are from the network’s existing library, including a past partnership with Sesame Street featuring Elmo. Others are currently in the works. “We are creating new content every day, including experiments that we’re doing for kids or that parents can do with their kids,” she said.
TWC has also significantly changed the way its newsroom operates in order to comply with social distancing recommendations. Anyone who can work from home is now working from home, which gives as much space as possible to the meteorologists and production teams who need to be in the studio.
“Our biggest concern right now is keeping our staff safe while making sure that we’re delivering American audiences the news and information that they need,” Zimmett said.