This year's Atlantic hurricane season will be slower than usual, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but the biggest storm may be kicked up by competitors in TV’s booming weather-tech sector. A host of new weather systems with improved graphics, touch screens, data, mobile apps and radar are making landfall at TV stations.
Such advances can provide a welcome lifeline for local stations. Faced with shrinking audiences for the newscasts that produce the bulk of their revenue, stations are hoping that new weather technologies will boost ratings and better compete against widely used weather apps on mobile devices.
“Broadcasters are really focused on the big screen and how they can improve their weather coverage to hold onto TV audiences and extend the amount of time they spend watching,” said Bill Dow, VP and general manager, media division, WSI, who added that the company’s new offerings for augmented reality weather systems and improved mobile alerts are designed to help solve those problems.
“Viewers are much more tech savvy and used to working with interactive screens on their mobile devices,” added Joel N. Myers, founder, chairman and president of AccuWeather, which offers the interactive touch screen weather system StoryTeller. “Having talent use StoryTeller shows they are media savvy. It elevates their credibility and provides viewers with better information that improves ratings.”
A notable new improvement to that system is a recent partnership with a competing weather tech provider Baron that will allow StoryTeller to simultaneously show radar feeds from Baron’s VIPIR system along with social media, video and a host of other inputs. “It allows us to leapfrog WSI and Weather Central in our severe weather coverage,” Myers said.
Another example of the new technologies that will be used to visualize hurricanes and other weather news this summer can be found at The Weather Channel. In May, it implemented an augmented reality system from its sister company WSI. This Max Reality system takes storm data and turns it into images that appear virtually in the studio beside on-air talent.
“It allows us to recreate weather systems in the studio in a way where the meteorologist can pull apart a tornado or hurricane and explain what is happening,” said, David Clark, president of The Weather Channel Network.
A number of these newer systems are also designed to help reduce costs. “The price of touch screen systems have come down but the value keeps increasing,” said Myers. “You have more and more capabilities and you can reduce the number of people needed to put together a presentation.”
The systems are also designed for simpler implementation and use. “Stations don’t have a lot of staff so it is important that the systems [like Max Reality] fi t into existing workflows,” Dow said.
Many of the improvements to weather coverage rely on better radar systems and the ability to translate massive amounts of data into compelling graphics. After being commissioned by the National Weather Service to install advanced dual polarization radar systems that provide much more information about severe weather, Baron is getting ready to deploy “next generation” radar systems for TV stations in 2016, explained Mike Mougey, VP of broadcast sales at the company.
“We are taking the same technology and transferring it to some local stations,” Mougey said. “As we get into the field, the best radar will be from the local TV stations, who can put it on their newscasts or mobile apps.”
BIG DATA ALERT
Another major priority is creating better graphics from the huge amounts of data being produced by improved radar and a much wider array of sources. Baron for example uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze massive amounts of government weather data to create a variety of products like the “Baron Hurricane Index,” to summarize how storms are developing.
Two other Baron products use satellite imagery of open oceans, where there is no radar, to show a storm. “The satellite data looks beautiful but it also provides a very visual way of saying `you need to get the heck off the beach,’ as this hurricane approaches,” Mougey said.
AccuWeather, Baron, WSI and the other major providers of weather systems are also putting much more emphasis on mobile products, which are getting much more widely used. “We [AccuWeather] reach 1.4 billion people a day through all the smartphones and devices,” Myers said.
In addition to encouraging users to tune into newscasts, new systems for delivering mobile forecasts and alerts can also boost revenue both for TV and for digital ads. Dow notes that their new Max Engage product not only automates the delivery of mobile alerts, “it also creates creating more engaged viewers and creates a tighter connection between the meteorologist and the mobile user that helps the station distribute more video and monetize it.”