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From Broadcast to MicroCast: Weather Gets Personal

(click thumbnail)Weather Forecasting Technology Bridges Broadcast and Internet

One of the most important facets of news is weather – and television stations have invested heavily in the branding of their station’s forecasting tools and personnel. Now there’s a tool that allows that branding to be brought to the Internet and, combined with a new service called Personal MicroCast, can actually mean extra revenue for the station.

Personal MicroCast, developed by MyWeather and Weather Central Inc. –both based in Madison, Wis. – is a personalized Internet weather service based on Weather Central’s technology that provides, through a numerical modeling system, precise forecasts for precise locations.

According to Grant Brohm, manager of station sales for Weather Central Inc. and a meteorologist by trade, Weather Central used the modeling technology along with visualization to allow on-air meteorologists to visualize the weather going forward in time. The data received from the modeling technology is called FutureCast. Further developments led to the A.D.O.N.I.S. MicroCast system, whereby stations are able to run the numerical weather prediction models themselves with a much greater degree of precision, taking into account the effects of terrain and other variables.

But as Victor Marsh, director of development with Weather Central and vice president of operations for MyWeather, said, the on-air tools provided were only part of the equation. "We really want to provide solutions across-the-board," he said.

Thus, the effort began to help broadcasters expand their branding into other types of media. MyWeather has taken the A.D.O.N.I.S. MicroCast technology, said Matt Peterson, president and CEO of MyWeather, "and used it to run 24/7 forecasts for the entire area that each station covers. We actually have entire banks of machines running on the Web 24 by 7." As Peterson said, the forecasting tool provides weather on an hour-by-hour basis, for locations as focused as 10 kM apart.

"With MyWeather and the Personal MicroCast product, we can now provide a tool that allows TV stations to deliver an unprecedented point-to-point forecast for every individual person in their marketplace," Marsh said.


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Local television stations purchase licenses for the Personal MicroCast system. Visitors to the station’s Web site then can subscribe to the service and have access to a personal Web page with their own weather forecast, done on an hour-by-hour basis. The forecast features the local television station’s meteorologists and other branding, even though a subscriber doesn’t necessarily need to be within viewing range of that television station.

The subscribers also have the option of receiving daily e-mails with their forecasts.

Without the Personal MicroCast, a TV station will often – from its Web site –direct visitors to the Weather Channel’s Web site or other places for forecasts; with Personal MicroCast, a station keeps visitors to its Web site "in the family" by supplying the weather directly.

Recent developments to the Personal MicroCast service include the capability to allow subscribers to list four locations for which they would like forecasts. Rather than checking multiple sources for the weather where friends and families live, the subscriber can receive forecasts for those areas in a daily e-mail.

In addition, the Personal MicroCast tool now provides severe weather forecasts, notifying subscribers immediately of severe weather warnings and watches in their locale.


WAVE-TV in Louisville, Ky., is sold on both the Personal MicroCast tool and the underlying technology. According to John Belski, a WAVE meteorologist, the station began last fall by testing the MicroCast technology. He admits to having been somewhat skeptical. But in tests against other forecasting equipment, "This is by far the most accurate," said Belski.

After the positive experience with MicroCast, the station decided to purchase a Personal MicroCast license. "We’ve had a great response from the public," said Belski. "From golfers to gardeners, people who want to go boating or people who just want to work in their back yard – when they see this hour-by-hour forecast, it just blows them away."

WAVE went up on the Web with the Personal MicroCast – they call it the "Personal Forecast" – in April.

According to Clay McNeil, WAVE’s Internet director, the setup of the Internet service was very easy. "The setup really only required us to come up with a wrapper, or the branding, and the navigation on the left and then some ad positions," he said.

And although the station hasn’t done a lot of promotion, the service now has some 15,000 subscribers. Word of mouth has seemingly played a major role – of those subscribers, 4,000 have used the "tell a friend" option to spread the word.

In addition to its primary usage, the Personal MicroCast was used on Sept. 11 to update subscribers to news events. With so many Web sites overloaded, the e-mail updates kept subscribers apprised of developments.

The volume of comments on the Personal Forecast has led the station to maintain a binder notebook with feedback, including comments such as "I love the personal forecast page – it’s very detailed, " and "I love getting the personal e-mails. It is just like having a friend in the weather business."


Although customer feedback is one factor to consider when making a business decision, money is another. According to Peterson, the best stations are getting an ROI of four to eight times the first year through service sponsorships using Personal MicroCast.

For the television station, in addition to being a potential revenue-generator and keeping visitors at the station’s Web site for weather, the Personal MicroCast can be a marketing tool. Subscribers list demographic information about themselves when signing up for the service, which the station is able to use in helping it create content for both the Web site and the local news broadcast – as well as to draw sponsors or advertisers.

By the end of 2001, Peterson said he expects to have stations in some 40 markets using the Personal MicroCast service, including most Cox stations. Personal MicroCast debuted in September 2000, with many stations having signed up since NAB2001, according to Peterson.

Peterson said that the whole concept behind the Personal MicroCaster was not just an Internet service, but instead a tool to help broadcasters move on to other forms of media necessary to compete in the digital era.

And he gave one example of how the technology could benefit a station in the years to come. "One could easily conceive some years from now, when digital datacasting happens and everyone has digital set-top boxes, that this kind of personal weather delivery could move form the Internet back on-air.

"So the weatherman could say, ‘scattered showers moving across the viewing area this evening, and here’s how it affects you’ and every television displays a unique weather forecast."

Marsh echoed this sentiments, and said that the emphasis of Weather Central is a strong belief in "helping broadcasters extend their brand to other media – and the Web is just one of those."

--WAVE meteorologist John Belski