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Coverage Goes Hyper-Local

New broadband, digital offerings track storms almost to the mile 5/19/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Weather-data providers The Weather Channel, NBC Weather Plus and AccuWeather are storming the Web with new offerings that provide detailed local information. They're also continuing to deploy digital 24-hour TV networks designed for carriage on digital cable tiers or as multicast streams within local broadcasters' digital television (DTV) spectrum.

The Weather Channel's weather.com is offering “On the Spot Weather” forecasts that indicate differences in weather at locations about 1.5 miles apart. The Weather Channel is using High Resolution Aggregated Data (HiRAD) tech­-nology that takes actual measure­-ments from some 1,500 reporting stations nationwide, combines them with radar and satellite data and various weather models, and makes complex calculations to create “synthetic” weather measurements for 1.9 million data points across the U.S. That means a user is never more than three-quarters of a mile or so from a reporting station.

“Weather by nature varies dramatically over short distances,” says Ian Miller, senior VP of IT weather systems for The Weather Channel. “We're trying to capture that spatial variation.”

HiRAD technology is also used for The Weather Channel's television forecasts, particularly when meteorologists are reporting on a weather event that is changing rapidly over a short distance, such as a snowstorm. HiRAD should be implemented by The Weather Channel's subscription mobile-video offerings in a few months and eventually integrated into the network's “Local on the 8s” forecasts, too.

The Weather Channel already offers video clips for mobile phones and will launch a hurricane-tracking feature this summer. It is developing on-demand products for cable and offering Weatherscan, a graphics-based 24-hour local-weather network carried as a digital-tier channel by Cox, Time Warner and Comcast to 23 million cable homes. Weatherscan offers cable competition to Weather Plus, the DTV multicast service that NBC launched in 2004, now carried by some 80 NBC affiliates across 75% of the country, mainly on digital cable tiers.

In turn, NBCWeatherPlus.com, which launched in January, is treading on the turf of weather.com and other portals.

WeatherPlus.com's pitch is that it achieves “hyper-localism” by taking National Weather Service forecasts, topographical information and modeling data from technology partners Weather Central and MyWeather and combining the information with unique insights from meteorologists at NBC stations. Local meteorologists understand nuances in their markets' weather that computers don't always capture.

“We don't just push national weather content out to a Web site,” says NBC Weather Plus General Manager Mike Steib. “We offer dynamic forecasting to any area in the country, tailored by the local meteorologist. We're the first digital weather portal powered by the local meteorologist.”

Data and graphics provider AccuWeather has offered its own 24-hour programming service for DTV multicast applications, the Local Accu­-Weather Channel, since last spring. It has been picked up by stations in 16 markets including New York, Phila- delphia, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, with some choosing a turnkey service from Accu­Weather and others mixing in locally produced content.

According to AccuWeather, another 55 markets are under contract to begin in 2006. At last month's NAB show, the company exhibited new high-def and Spanish-language versions. “It allows the broadcaster to leverage the digital tier and put up a 24-by-7 information channel with content that they know is a proven audience-builder,” says VP of Marketing Dr. Lee Rainey.

Working with interactive-TV vendor ICTV, Accu­Weather has also developed an interactive channel aimed at digital cable and IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) subscribers. That service, which AccuWeather is currently pitching to telcos, will provide Internet-like functionality on the TV screen and include searchable local forecasts, animated satellite maps and on-demand access to local-weather programming.

“It's finished and ready to go,” says Brian Kisslack, AccuWeather executive director of sales. “We're waiting for the decision-makers to catch up.”

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