In Depth

NAB Weather Equipment Report

 By Debra Kaufman

Although 3-D TV is in its most nascent stage, Weather Central’s 3D:LIVE real-time broadcast weather platform is ready. At this month’s National Association of Broadcasters’ 2010 NAB Show in Las Vegas, 3D:LIVE will be demonstrated producing true stereoscopic images.

“Even though broadcasters may be trying to figure out what their plans are going to be and what they’ll have to do in the world of stereo 3-D, we want to make sure they know that if the market goes that way, the system will be able to do it,” said Weather Central Senior VP Steve Smedberg.

Staying in front of trends is a necessity for manufacturers of weather systems, whose products power one of local stations’ most crucial offerings. That’s why manufacturers are making aggressive moves at NAB 2010 to reach viewers on alternate screens: digital tiers, mobile, Web and social networking sites.

Moving weather content to the mobile platform is one important trend to emerge, and AccuWeather, Weather Central, WSI, Weather Metrics and Baron are among those that will be showcasing the ability to repurpose content for mobile devices.

AccuWeather, for example, offers its own mobile Web site, an iPhone app and a service that creates branded mobile Web sites for stations. AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers, who said its system is compatible with 80 percent of the world’s handsets, notes that the latter option provides consistency across platforms as well as opportunities to create revenue from ads and co-branding. “The station needs to stay in touch with the audience from day to day and just sitting in front of the TV doesn’t cut it anymore,” said Myers. “Stations look for Web, mobile and now social media to reach people wherever they are.”

WSI offers a similar “white label app” with its Weather Active Digital Solutions, which enables the user to look at weather forecasts on the iPhone and, soon, Android phones. “The station can brand it as their own,” explains WSI GM Bill Dow. “Then they’ll get brand extension and ad space.”

Weather Metrics’ FlexChannel Mobile supports the station in delivering hyper-local information and advertising in an integrated Hyper-Local mobile TV channel with tools for content ingest, scheduling, commercial playback and billing.

Social networking and widgets (portable, stand-alone applications that can be embedded into third-party sites) are the latest twist on an effort to repurpose weather content, and, at the same time, encourage “virality” and maximize brand.

Weather Central surveyed weather departments in TV stations across North America and learned that, although stations enjoyed increased visibility on alternate platforms, it also took precious resources and time to feed them. That’s why many of the new tools to repurpose content to debut at NAB 2010 will also streamline the process.

AccuWeather, Weather Central and WSI are among weather systems providers that make it easy for meteorologists to deliver information without adding significantly to their workload. WSI is introducing two time/cost-saving tools for digital platforms. “Max One allows the weather talent to record a complete weather hit without tying up master control,” said Dow. “On his own, the meteorologist can create weather forecasts for the Web and even mobile. Stations are limited how often they can create video for Web/mobile, and this allows them to do more with fewer resources.”

Prism is a “digital publishing engine” that allows automatic distribution to mobile phones, the Web and other digital devices. “Prism can take an on-air seven-day forecast and create a movie that automatically formats and posts for Web and mobile, with the same consistent brand,” said Dow.

AccuWeather, which also offers a one-step way to repurpose graphics video headlines to Facebook and Twitter, is introducing weather widgets, not just for TV stations but also for TV set manufacturers. According to Myers, Internet-capable TV sets featuring AccuWeather widgets will begin shipping this spring.

Other trends in weathercasting are a continuation of more long-term efforts. Manufacturers continue to up the ante when it comes to the look and sound of a station’s on-air weather programming.

Whereas meteorologists on national weathercasts have benefited from the sleek look of interactive touchscreens, that’s been too pricey for a local TV station — until now. At NAB, AccuWeather will introduce its touchscreen for CinemaLive HD. “There’s a movement towards trying to get Hollywood movie studio quality on local weathercasts,” said Myers.

WSI is launching SkyCast 4D, which adds audio enhancements as well as improved visuals. “It takes realism and [immersion] to a new level with sound,” said Dow, who said 82 percent of their test audiences had surround sound with their HDTVs. “When we show a beautiful picture of the forecast, you’ll also hear the rainfall, the thunder.” SkyCast 4D also adds 3-D cityscapes.

Weather Central’s next-generation on-air graphics system 3D:LIVE introduces Fusion, which takes advantage of solid-state technology and improved hardware. “Animations of maps fly in real-time instead of rendering them,” said Smedberg, who notes that workflow enhancements also enable centralized content creation, a reflection of smaller newsrooms.

The transition to HD is still taking place in local TV newsrooms, said Dow, who notes that only 30 percent of the TV news market has gone HD in some way, and that the dismal economy has slowed conversion. “Last year was a tough one for everyone, especially for local stations,” he adds. “As the capital budgets have been loosening this year, stations are starting to get back with the program.”

Broadcasters have been buffeted by the double whammy of the economy and the need to constantly upgrade equipment. With HD still on the checklist and mobile DTV coming into play, now 3-D looms as another potential — and quite expensive — item to absorb.

In this constantly changing digital landscape it’s nice to have any certainty, and that’s what AccuWeather is offering this year with its “indestructibility” insurance.
“I can’t tell you over the years the number of TV stations that have called us up and said someone spilled coffee on the computer,” said Myers. “They fry an expensive piece of equipment, and they have to replace it. With our new indestructibility insurance, bundled into the price, we cover lightning strikes, power surges and spilled coffee. You pay for the system once and never again, no matter what you do with it.”