By Malathi Nayak
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Weather Channel plans to introduce a mobile phone app for its recently launched online local news service Local Now in a bid to expand its viewership, Chief Executive Dave Shull told Reuters in an interview.
The independent TV network, which brings weather coverage from blizzards to tornadoes to millions of American homes, rolled out in January an online service "Local Now" that offers local news, weather, traffic and sports updates. The service is currently only available on Dish Network Corp's online streaming service Sling TV.
"News should be personalized for you, hyper-local, and on-demand just like your favorite shows on Netflix or Hulu," Shull said on Thursday. "You shouldn't have to wait for the local news to come on at 11 p.m."
The Local Now app, expected to launch in June, lets users access the service on iOS and Android phones by entering account information from their cable or satellite-TV subscription with some operators, such as Time Warner Cable Inc, Shull said. It offers a free trial for a week.
The launch comes as streaming services such as Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc's Prime Video gain popularity and viewers shun traditional pay-TV offerings.
Streaming or over-the-top services bring slim bundles of channels from sports to kids entertainment to viewers, but often lack rich local news content as streaming rights have to be painstakingly negotiated with hundreds of stations.
The challenge for local news stations is to satisfy mobile demand without undermining viewership for traditional broadcasts, which generate hefty fees from cable operators who pay to carry their content.
By identifying a viewer's location, ad-free Local Now creates a real-time, short-form newscast using live data from Weather Channel traffic and weather cameras and news from a handful of content partners, such as the Associated Press. The newscasts, which do not feature a news anchor, use automated pre-recorded words strung together to deliver news.
By leveraging existing Weather Channel infrastructure and using cost-efficient technology, Local Now can offer local news coverage to distributors at a "fraction of the cost" charged by local news stations, Shull said.
Local Now's competition includes Watchup, available on online devices such as Apple TV that aggregates news, including local coverage from Hearst Television, McClatchy and other outlets. Last fall, over a hundred local U.S. TV stations began streaming live newscasts through an app called NewsOn.
Shull said he is working on taking Local Now to more online streaming services, striking content partnerships and offering interactive segments in coming months.
(Reporting by Malathi Nayak; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)