The coronavirus crisis has turned entire industries* upside down, forcing many to strategize new ways to adapt. Broadcast stations, especially, have been forced to rethink day-to-day operations, with many meteorologists delivering weather directly from their homes.
Broadcasting away from the studio proved to be difficult, due to the sheer size of equipment, as well as the need for specific data from their weather forecasting technology. Meteorologists, however, have prevailed by providing viewers with the information they need, while also presenting it in engaging and innovative ways. Using tools such as augmented reality, meteorologists are able to craft powerful visuals from sources such as weather radar and forecasting models to help their viewers better prepare for incoming storms.
In fact, according to Nielsen*, there was a 10 percent lift in viewership for local news stations for persons aged 25-54 between early February and early March. This is due in large part to how broadcasters adapted and succeeded in giving viewers what they were looking for. Identifying what made them effective will help others adjust their weathercast strategies, adapt winning tactics, and determine how to better prepare for the future.
Broadcast influencers’ perspectives on weather technology
With all of this in mind, The Weather Company, an IBM Business asked top broadcasters and thought leaders for their input on innovations in weather forecasting technology, and how it will impact the industry in the future. Here’s what they said.
Adapting and innovating for remote broadcasts
“2020 was a challenging year in more ways than one. The COVID-19 virus changed our lives in an instant and the timeliness and accuracy of information became more critical than ever. Media outlets, big and small, were forced to adapt on the fly, turning broadcasters’ living rooms into mini studios.
Meteorologists were tasked with even more complex scenarios. Within a matter of days, they were connecting to numerous important weather and graphics computers remotely. They were building in-home sets, complete with chroma key and lighting kits. Essentially, in an instant, everything we had ever known about broadcasting was tossed on its head and the entire industry was changed forever.
But, in these challenges, we found new solutions. We learned that we could deliver complex forecasts without ever getting in your car. We could produce entire segments and cover dangerous, life-threatening storms without ever walking in the studio doors. We found new ways to collaborate with our teams and to work together (from a distance) while still keeping the quality and timeliness of our end product.
In the end, it is critical that we take what we have learned in 2020 and apply it to 2021 and beyond. The future of weather forecasting must be versatile. We must focus on improving our ability to broadcast anytime, anywhere while keeping the integrity and accuracy of our presentation. There is no going back, only forward.”
Taking broadcasts to the next level with augmented reality
“Since its introduction, augmented reality (AR) is an innovation I have loved. As we move forward, I think it will be interesting to see how AR is able to move to the next level. The Weather Company has been at the forefront with the release of its augmented reality platform several years back, and they have now advanced it with set extensions which can put the talent in the middle of the action.
We all have the standard equipment viewers expect from our broadcasts which includes streaming radar, severe weather tools, satellite, cameras and model forecasts. AR can set weathercasts apart from the competition in day-to-day coverage.
A quick note on two other innovations for news and weather broadcasting, work from home (WFH) and OTT. It's amazing to see what everyone was able to do so quickly to produce, code and broadcast shows from home. Meanwhile, OTT is in its early stages, but this is a new platform to distribute information, and local stations are trying different methods. We're having early success with our regular news program simulcasts but also with anchorless newscasts with news and weather segments in a half-hour wheel. OTT has become a new revenue stream for some stations.”
Expanding reach with weather apps and social media
“Weather broadcasting is no longer just on television. In fact, most of it happens on weather apps and social media. That is why I love the Max Engage product so much. On quiet weather days, it is a way to send short forecast videos to your viewers. However, during severe weather and we get a lot of that in Tennessee it can literally help spread your message quickly and reach the most people.
The March 3rd tornado event is a great example of this. While I was on television with my team members for almost 24 hours straight, Max Engage sent new warnings out both to our weather app and to our social pages and in turn saved so many lives. It also kept me alert while on television letting me know when a new warning was issued.”
Beyond AI: Improving audience engagement
“It is clear that the future of weather information passes through AI. Imagine automatic video publications, perhaps even with the same voice of the local meteorologist, which will spread across all digital platforms.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and high resolution nowcast are here. With machine learning and deep learning, they pretend to be the tools to obtain an exact hour by hour, or minute by minute forecast without errors. Why wait until 5-6pm to see the weather report?
Here is our challenge. Leaving aside the severe weather coverage, the weather segment will have to contribute something “more”. Like what? Audience interaction with photos and videos. In addition, the use of augmented reality to "explain" the reason for meteorological phenomena and/or other scientific curiosities will be in our daily weather report.
For our Latino audience, that is fundamental! Many come from countries where they have never experienced a hurricane, tornado, winter storm or hail. Educating and informing with visual graphics is our goal to continue innovating in weather broadcast.”
Major convergence in technologies
“Last year I wrote about the convergence of AI, NextGen, Big Data and Higher Compute Smartphones. Those are all still game changers. Of course, none of the contributors for the ‘What trends will change broadcasting’ article could have predicted Covid-19; the pandemic greatly impacted 2020 and forever changed broadcasting. With the pandemic being top of mind, I look to 2021 and the future of broadcasting through a different lens.
Cloud is the nucleus
Hybrid cloud is changing broadcasting. We have been cloudifying our products over the past couple of years. The benefits of hybrid cloud are immense. For example, Data from the Cloud allows us to deliver higher resolution for exactly where our customers need it and use less bandwidth because it’s on demand. Said differently, we wouldn’t be able to deliver our newest weather model (IBM GRAF) without Data from the Cloud. Cloud is an enabler. It’s the nucleus of the next generation of weathercasting and broadcast workflow. It frees us up from the constraints that come with being all premise-based.
I still think AI is a game changer
Last year when I contributed to this article, I wrote that AI is going to be a trend to watch. At the time we were working on completing Weather InSight, an AI-driven mobile experience. With more digital players providing weather, broadcasters need to rise above the commodity level of weather data. For consumers, Weather InSight’s AI tells them when the weather will impact them by highlighting the data in red (negative impact) and green (positive impact). This same idea can work with other OTT channels. Users demand more than just having data put in front of them. They want you to give them just what they need and it must be understandable.
While the industry was flipped upside down this year, broadcasters have triumphed, due to ever-evolving weather forecasting technologies, and innovative new methods of delivering broadcasts.
I want to give a big thanks to Lelan Statom, Terry Eliasen, Danielle Breezy, Albert Martinez and Rodney Thompson—who provided their perspectives on weather forecasting technology innovations in 2020, as well as insights into broadcasting in the future and beyond.
What innovations to weather forecasting technology have you seen make an impact on the broadcast industry? We would love to hear your perspective. You can contact us here.*
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