When the new weather channel WeatherNation launched this year, it quickly decided to embrace social media as a way to attract new viewers and raise its profile among operators.
Not only does the channel allow Facebook users to upload photos and video-almost everyone does that. It has also become the first dedicated weather channel to provide a live 24-hour stream on Facebook, a move that the channel believes will help gain more traditional carriage.
The Weather Channel (TWC) meanwhile has partnered with Twitter to launch The Weather Channel Social, which allows consumers to be able to see real-time tweets about local weather displayed alongside forecasts aired on TWC's live TV channel, its website at weather.com and as part of its mobile services and apps.
Such efforts are obviously a natural fit for weathercasts, providing channels and stations with additional information, photos and video that they can use to illustrate breaking weather events, and help tap into the growing popularity of weather on social media platforms.
During major storms, for example, users produce over two million weather related tweets a day, TWC reports.
But consumer's love affair with Twitter, Facebook, smartphones and tablets poses some serious problems for meteorologists and local stations.
Many stations have yet to integrate their regular workflows with the work needed to post content to social media sites, notes Bill Baker, president of Weather Central.
"A lot of broadcasters haven't adopted solutions to get content seamlessly to the Web, mobile, Twitter and Facebook," which means they had a harder time satisfying consumer demand for weather content on those platforms, he notes.
Additional complexity is created by the different formats and operating systems used by various devices.
Not surprisingly, Bryan Norcross, hurricane specialist and director of weather presentation at TWC notes that "a key underpinning to our technology efforts has been to find ways to have a single content creation process for graphics so we are providing consistent content to the TV network, weather.com and the mobile platform, which is growing by leaps and bounds."
To satisfy that demand, a number of vendors, including WSI, Weather Central and AccuWeather, are now offering solutions to provide consistent graphics and forecasts across platform.
"We have features on the map side that facilitate production to these platforms so that they have an automated content engine that creates graphics and automatically posts them to the web or mobile format so that they have a consistent format on all the platforms," notes Bill Dow, VP and general manager of WSI's Media Division.
This is important because in the past, some stations may have offered up one forecast on air but had another on their web or mobile offerings because they were taking those forecasts from outside providers.
WSI also offers a feature that allows meteorologist to produce video clips "without tying up master control or relying on anyone else," Dow adds. "They can go and produce a little intro with them on camera and publish that to the web and mobile properly formatted....And because it is integrated with our TruVu Max system, it is part of the regular workflow."
Similarly, AccuWeather offers a Video Blogger product for quick multiplatform production. "It makes it very easy to quickly produce a video segment without control room personnel and post it to the web, Facebook, Twitter, the mobile site, etc., when you have breaking news," notes Dr. R. Lee Rainey, VP of marketing at AccuWeather.
Baker adds that they first began focusing on multi-platform features six years ago. "A key part of our success has been solutions that serve multi-platforms seamlessly by allowing broadcasters to disseminate their brands to any device," he says.
Weather Central was also an early mover in the social media space, integrating its solution with Facebook over two years ago, Baker notes.
Another key issue has been providing stations with white label Apps that allow them to easily deliver content to their viewers. Nielsen found that about 40% of the U.S. adult mobile phone users had smartphones in July of 2011 and it expects over half of the population will have them by the end of this year.
"With our white label apps they can offer their viewers an app that has the branding of the station where we are automatically aggregating content from both their own station and our content," says Jim Menard, VP and general manager of digital initiatives at WSI.
Apps are also a major focus for Weather Central, which has deployed mobile and online products for some 200 broadcast clients. "We can serve and deliver content to them from our facilities under their brand and we can customize that for each client," notes Baker.