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Warring weather channels vie for viewers

DirecTV drops Weather Channel

NEW YORK — A sudden change in the weather means real money for Paul Falavolito. When a snowstorm rolls in, the chief of a small, nonprofit ambulance service in White Oak, Pa., has to keep paramedics in ambulance bays longer. If there’s a break in the weather, he can let crews go home rather than pay overtime.

So Falavolito was outraged last month when he flipped on DirecTV’s replacement weather service, WeatherNation TV. As a snowstorm swept through the Northeast, Falavolito watched meteorologist Rob Koch give a seven-day forecast for Los Angeles: mostly sunny, with highs in the 70s and 80s.

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“I’m reading tweets about hundreds of thousands of people on the East Coast that don’t have power,” Falavolito said. “WeatherNation was talking about the weather in Los Angeles. To me, it’s very unacceptable.”

Since Jan. 13, DirecTV has replaced The Weather Channel with WeatherNation TV in a dispute over fees, angering customers who say WeatherNation is a poor substitute that offers rote seven-day forecasts.

Such standoffs are becoming commonplace as TV content producers demand higher fees from cable and satellite companies that carry their programs. The higher fees, say pay-TV providers, result in ballooning bills for consumers.

DirecTV is raising a new argument: Why pay high fees for weather reports when consumers can get free forecasts on their mobile devices? There are more than a dozen weather apps for smartphones.

But WeatherNation TV has gained. Overnight, its distribution jumped from 10 million homes to 30 million. It takes umbrage at the criticism.

‘‘Let me be real clear: We don’t run on a three-hour loop,’’ said Michael Norton, president. If some city forecasts are repeated, it’s because ‘‘those models don’t change minute to minute. During Hurricane Sandy, I had seven crews along the East Coast. I think there’s a misunderstanding of what we provide.’’

WeatherNation TV is working with DirecTV to improve its service. It has activated a ‘‘local button’’ that displays a snapshot of local weather. In March, it launches a six-screens-in-one feature for life-threatening events.

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