Stations Looking for Any Edge in a Storm

Apr 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

As local broadcasters grapple with how to get involved in the new media world of on-demand consumption of news and content that’s been gripping the rest of the TV business for the past year, they’ll find that weather content may be a good starting point.

Weather reporting has long been a center for innovative new technology because viewers care as much about the weather as they do about any other part of a local newscast.

Consumers need weather information, and weather is often the dominant reason they turn to a local station. That’s why weather vendors are gearing up for a National Association of Broadcasters convention where they’ll showcase the latest tools to help local broadcasters keep pace with the new need to deliver weather online, on-air and on new platforms such as cellphones.

Weather is a natural fit for cellphones, said Brian Bracco, VP of news with Hearst-Argyle, which offers cellphone weather data for a number of its stations. “People want to know the weather where they are going to and, if they can, get updates about the weather. If there is a severe storm, they want to know where it is,” he said.

Weather information and technology provider AccuWeather announced earlier this month its so-called “third-screen network” for local stations to deliver weather content on mobile devices. The technology platform is based on what’s known as WAP, or wireless application protocol, a graphics protocol used on more than 80 percent of phones sold today, said Lee Rainey, VP of marketing for AccuWeather.

The third-screen network includes news, national headlines, traffic, sports and financial information-all the usual menu items that a local station needs to get into the cellphone business. AccuWeather delivers the content, maintains the service and sells the ads.

Mr. Rainey said there’s no cost for a station to participate in the service; the business model is based on a revenue split of ad dollars. In addition, the service is free to consumers, and because it uses a widely available wireless platform, it can be offered independently of any cell phone carrier. “It’s a no-risk way to position yourself in the mobile market. We think third-screen will be of a great interest as stations figure out to quickly get into [the] wireless area,” he said.

In addition to cellphone options, AccuWeather also is introducing additional capabilities for its local AccuWeather channel that broadcasters use to produce a 24-hour local weather service on the digital spectrum. The additional functions include weather in high definition and in Spanish. AccuWeather is also working to produce broadband video content for its broadcast partners focused on local, breaking, travel and special-interest weather.

At the show, AccuWeather competitor WSI will demo its new Prism service, a digital publishing tool for sending weather content automatically from its main weather engine, TrueView, to other platforms such as cellphones, the Web and desktop applications, said Linda Maynard, VP of media marketing at WSI.

“Our customers are producing more and more content and are pushing radar to the phone and content to the phones and they don’t get to hire one more person. So we set up a publishing engine which will take the content they are pushing on the TrueView system to others,” she said. That automates the process of managing and servicing multiple platforms, reducing the workload.

Prism is an upgrade to TrueView and will be available in June. “We have customers who are having to do so much more with no more and digitally needing their content on multiple places,” Ms. Maynard said.