Traffic in High Technology

May 26, 2003  •  Post A Comment

From Philadelphia to Los Angeles, TV stations are betting that better coverage of rush-hour traffic will bring more traffic to their position on the dial.
Traffic Pulse Networks from Mobility Technologies has been scooping up deals to bring its high-tech traffic tools to local TV stations in major markets.
In Los Angeles, the epicenter of traffic coverage, Tribune-owned WB affiliate KTLA-TV introduced a new traffic look from Traffic Pulse during May sweeps as part of its effort to stay on top of that market’s “traffic wars.” NBC owned-and-operated station KNTV in San Francisco is slated to go live with the service in early June.
Morning news continues to be a growth area for local TV news, and stations have increasingly sought ways to spice up their morning traffic reports.
With 2D and 3D maps, Traffic Pulse brings new tools to a news segment that has been largely lacking in visual pizzazz. But its real specialty is its ability to synchronize data from the variety of highway sensors already on the roadways and compute travel times between different points.
Up-to-the-minute travel time data has not been available with such precision, according to many stations using the service. Traffic Pulse relies on data from Department of Transportation sensors around the country that report speeds along a commute, compiling the data to provide travel times.
“We’re giving you an actual breadth and sense of the road, so you know exactly where the slow points are,” said Jon Agree, executive producer, TV programming, for Traffic Pulse. “[We can say] travel time is 55 minutes, but at this exit traffic is going at 8 miles per hour. We can say not only is it slow, but it’s this slow.”
KTLA is the first station in Los Angeles to use the service. Traffic reporter Jennifer York now suggests alternate routes to viewers to make Southern California’s well-known congestion more understandable, News Director Jeff Wald said.
3D Maps Coming
The station currently uses the 2D maps to depict real-time traffic flow and plans to add 3D mapping capability during the next few months. KTLA will also integrate the data into its Web site so users can enter their routes online and obtain the traffic flow and drive-time information there. In September the station will add transit information for local buses and trains.
Chicago NBC O&O WMAQ-TV added the technology in January to upgrade its traffic look and information, said Frank Whittaker, VP of news for the station. “You could look at expressways and with animations see how traffic is moving, because graphics change color in the map,” he said. “We felt traffic could be presented in a better way. As we all battle to get the morning viewer we will look for different tools to do that.”
Philadelphia NBC O&O WCAU-TV was one of the first to sign on with the service, nearly two years ago. “Technology is really driving our ability to tell better stories,” said Chris Blackman, news director at WCAU.
Traffic Pulse has also enhanced traffic reporting through local stunts, including a contest in Philadelphia to find a summer traffic reporter for WCAU. About 1,600 people tried out for the job, and the winner was scheduled to be announced on May 21, the last night of sweeps.
Hearst-Argyle-owned NBC affiliate WBAL-TV in Baltimore uses the technology and also is dressing up its traffic coverage by carrying reports from Maryland state troopers.
Traffic Pulse is in use by 18 stations in 14 markets, a rollout that is 30 percent higher than expected. Other stations using the technology include Chicago Fox O&O WFLD-TV; Belo’s top-rated ABC station in Dallas, WFAA-TV; and Post Newsweek-owned NBC station KPRC-TV in Houston.