Climate Control

Forecast: Weather data that is more local and precise

The weather-systems companies exhibiting at NAB 2004 share one fundamental belief: If you win the weather game, local news will win the ratings game. And no fewer than five converging fronts in weather technology will meet in Las Vegas: localization, ease of use, graphics, 24/7 weather, and multimedia viewer outreach.

NAB attendees shopping for weather systems will likely hear such phrases "hyper-local," "street-by-street," and "backyard forecast." In the hunt for viewers, nearly every weather-systems provider agrees, stations need to more-precise data.

Weather Central is bringing its MicroCast system to NAB. Relying on an exclusive forecast model run by a central staff of meteorologists, it allows the station to choose the resolution (up to 4 km) and map size in localizing the forecast. Once the grid is set, the weather model can be run several times daily.

AccuWeather boasts 1-km resolution and hourly updates with its updated Galileo 2.1 system.

Weather Metrics allows a station to place weather sensors throughout its market. This gives viewers live readings from locations that are demographically important rather than geographically fixed.

One company working on the localization angle has a different twist. WeatherData, which has traditionally provided site-specific information to weather-sensitive businesses, is helping stations report on weather events by giving remote reporters on-site storm data. The company's StormHawk system lets remote reporters use a PDA equipped with cellular and GPS capability to find a storm in progress. Then they can get the best possible footage before finding a safe spot to relay the footage back to the studio.

WeatherData CEO Mike Smith, a former TV meteorologist, plans to launch a Web site before NAB to preview the company's new SelectWarn weather-graphics system. He sees WeatherData's services as useful add-ons to a station's existing system, enhancing severe weather reporting.

Weather-systems providers are also responding to calls for shorter time to air and more ease of use. With several weather updates during an hours-long morning show, the forecast at the first break may be irrelevant by the last break, and the chief meteorologist can't constantly be sitting in front of the terminal. Systems providers are looking to familiar tools and simple software to ensure stations always put the latest, most important information on-air.

Keeping system architecture simple and less intimidating is an important step in ease of use. Weather Central offers PC-based systems. AccuWeather and Weather Metrics systems operate entirely on Windows-based software. WeatherOne runs on Sun hardware and boasts a "one-person, one-box" system. All the systems offer automation to eliminate much of the labor used to create the on-air graphics.

For example, anyone can train on the Galileo 2.1 system in less than two hours and get the same on-air look as advanced users, according to AccuWeather founder and President Dr. Joel Myers. If the staff on-site is having trouble, the chief can dial into the system and make changes from anywhere.

When it comes to making the graphics more dynamic, the companies take different paths.

Weather Central, according to National Sales Manager Anne Van Der Geest, is putting much of the storytelling control in the hands of the on-air talent. With the :LIVE system, presenters can randomly access graphics during broadcast to illustrate the weather story. Using the graphics as an interactive tool, the talent can use his or her hand as a mouse to Telestrate (draw on the screen), bring up data, or move on to new graphics.

AccuWeather is promoting its photo-quality graphics, fly-throughs, and animation within graphics as storytelling tools. WeatherOne cites its system's customizable maps and animated symbols as ways to make a local weather broadcast stand out.

Weather Metrics offers customizable graphics as well but stresses profitability over pizzazz. According to President Peter Levy, the bells and whistles could add cost to a system without improving the on-air presentation and even turning viewers off.

Another development among providers is the push into digital television, the Web, and non-weather applications.

AccuWeather recently launched the world's first HD weather system on VOOM, Cablevision's all-HD DBS service. Both AccuWeather and Weather Central offer 24/7 "local weather in a box" systems that run on bandwidth available in a station's DTV channel.

Similarly, Weather Metrics offers a fully automated 24/7 system that a broadcast channel can use to supply a full-time weather-plus-content channel to a local cable network. It features a forecast and current-reading mask over a video feed that includes advertising. According to Levy, the system can reach ROI levels up to 10 times larger than systems already in place. The system will be exclusive to one station in each market.

Weather Central has formed a partnership with MyWeather, which will have its own booth on the NAB show floor in addition to sharing space in Weather Central's booth. Through the partnership, Weather Central can offer stations a Web-based weather system synchronized with its on-air system. MyWeather provides the engine that runs behind the station's Web site to provide current local weather carrying the station's brand.

AccuWeather is offering Web and wireless systems either à la carte or as part of what it calls the Total Weather Program. The program is exclusive to one station per market and includes name rights for marketing, forecast support, weather alerts, and a weather bug, as well as WeatherHost, a Web-based image based on the on-air talent. WeatherHost is designed to look like the weather anchor and will use prerecorded audio of the talent's voice to present the local weather on the station's Web site.

Graphics-system supplier VizRT also is in the weather game. Viz Weather 3D real-time software is used to create and play out weather-related graphics. According to President Isaac Hersly, the system uses the Viz engine to turn weather data from sister company Storm's database or from another data provider into graphics.

Clearly, NAB promises abundant tools to help broadcasters meet viewers' ever growing demands for weather info.