Technology

Into the Eye of the Storm

Increased competition fuels rapid innovation in weather graphics and systems 9/19/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

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Weather Graphics: Multi-platform Turbulence

Bryan Norcross, The Weather Channel’s
hurricane specialist and director of weather
presentation, was about 15 seconds from
going on-air recently when he received a sudden
advisory on Tropical Storm Lee that included new
data and a different projected path.

In the recent past, it would have taken Norcross’
team several precious minutes to create new graphics
for the report, forcing him to explain the storm’s
expected trajectory without visual aids. But with
TWC’s new TruVu Max weather system from WSI,
“we were able to get up not just the numbers, but
show, for the new forecast, path and graphics within
a matter of seconds,” Norcross recalls.

Such speed-to-air tech has been particularly important
this year. “With Irene, we’ve just had our
10th $1 billion-plus weather disaster,” notes Paul
Douglas, founder and CEO of Broadcast Weather,
which provides much of the content for the new
WeatherNation channel. “It is the most billiondollar-
plus disasters the U.S. has ever had.”

Providing better information on those disasters
and other weather events is also making improved
weather systems and graphics a major component
of the overall financial health of many stations and
channels. Although weather remains a crucial factor
in the ratings success of local newscasts, which in
turn accounts for a significant portion of a station’s
revenue, broadcast weather faces increasing competition
from online and mobile weather services that
offer instant forecasts and news.

“The biggest challenge is telling the story and
providing information that goes beyond what they
are going to get from Google and all the other
sources,” Douglas says.

In response, the demand for better weather solutions,
both for existing providers and newer entrants, remains hot, even in these
tight economic times.

Hoping to capitalize on that demand, Richard Reed, meteorologist and senior
sales executive at CustomWeather, says the company has been expanding its U.S.
sales efforts for solutions from the Norwegian provider, WeatherOne. “We are seeing
a lot of interest,” he reports.

Meanwhile, long-standing providers of weather solutions to the U.S. market have
been pushing to enhance their offerings on a number of fronts, producing some
notable technical advances.

These include better solutions to streamline and automating weather graphics
production so stations can deliver more content to more platforms; greatly enhanced
3D animation and graphics for hyper-local coverage that can offer almost
street-by-street forecasts; vastly improved social media features; simplified multiplatform
delivery; and apps that stations
can use to capitalize on the growing popularity
of smartphones and tablets.

These enhancements also come at a
time when many stations lack big budgets
for beefing up their weather operations.
“Broadcasters haven’t added staff, and they
are asking people to do more with the same
or sometimes fewer resources,” says Bill
Baker, president of Weather Central, which
has deployed its systems to more than 400
North American broadcasters.

Streamlined work flows to create more
graphics with limited resources are particularly
important as broadcasters place more
emphasis on multiplatform delivery and
social media. “All the top stations are looking
for ways to integrate social media, Facebook
and Twitter and multiplatform delivery
into their regular work flow for producing
graphics,” notes Bill Dow, VP and general
manager of WSI’s Media Division, which has
more than 175 customers using its TruVu
Max system in the U.S. and Canada.

WSI’s white-label apps have also been
adopted by more than 150 stations and
downloaded by users more than 2.5 million
times, adds Jim Menard, the company’s VP
and general manager of digital initiatives.

This pressure to streamline operations
has also encouraged weather system vendors
to offer more integrated solutions for
weather, news, sports and even election
coverage.

Weather Central, for example, already
has a News Navigator product, and WSI is
planning to add tools for covering traffic—which is often impacted by weather—
later this year.

“Within the last few years, we’ve seen weather systems increasingly migrate
throughout the newsroom, and more and more stations are using our CinemaLive
[weather system] as the cornerstone of their graphics strategy,” notes R. Lee Rainey,
VP of marketing at AccuWeather, which has deployed CinemaLive in more than 65
DMAs and its other products in many other markets.

E-mail comments to gpwin@oregoncoast.com

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