Into the Eye of the Storm

Increased competition fuels rapid innovation in weather graphics and systems
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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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