The Weather Channel later this month will start rolling out
a suite of six local-weather-programming services, which will include customizable
networks with traffic information, golfing or ski reports and even Spanish-language
forecasts, officials said last week.
Two of the networks -- Weatherscan Local and Weatherscan
Radar -- will debut March 31, and they will be delivered to cable systems via TWC's
new cable-headend computer, "Weather Star XL."
TWC is starting to deploy Weather Star XL, which will
replace its "Weather Star 4000," this month. It will install the upgraded
equipment, at a cost of millions of dollars, initially at top 10 MSO systems in the top 15
markets, TWC officials said.
Three other new custom-weather services -- Weatherscan
Plus, Weatherscan Plus Traffic and Weatherscan Español -- will launch in April and May.
The sixth service -- Weatherscan by The Weather Channel,
which includes regional and national weather reports -- actually debuted last year, and it
is now being carried by Tele-Communications Inc.'s Headend in the Sky.
All of the new weather services -- which are being marketed
under the brand name "Weatherscan by The Weather Channel" -- will be available
for either digital or analog carriage, although digital is most likely for channel-locked
TWC doesn't have any carriage deals yet for the
services, which it began pitching to MSOs last week at CTAM's Digital & PPV
Conference in New Orleans.
"This is a flexible bouquet of products that cable
operators can pick and choose from to craft a local-weather channel that's most
appropriate for their marketplace," said Michael Eckert, CEO of TWC.
Comcast Corp. is already using a precursor to the new suite
of services -- a local-weather service based on the old Weather Star 4000 -- as part of
its digital package.
But there are number of players in the local-weather arena.
NBC has said that it is planning a digital-weather channel, with local elements that might
include traffic. Right now, NBC, in partnership with Weather Services International Inc.,
already supplies PrimeStar Inc. with 10 regional-weather channels.
And WSI, AccuWeather Inc., LIN Television Corp. and
Cablevision Systems Corp. are also offering their own local-weather cable channels.
Time Warner Cable has a deal with WSI to develop a
local-weather channel that it will roll out soon in Tampa, Fla., MSO spokesman Mike
Luftman said. Depending on how that goes, Time Warner may use WSI to do other
local-weather channels, he added.
All of TWC's six services will use graphics, with some
animation and audio, rather than video. But as time goes on, TWC plans to upgrade them to
video, officials said.
The networks are customizable in terms of localization of
weather information and other features, such as audio, and they can be co-branded with the
local system's name.
"There is a trend toward localization," Eckert
Weatherscan Local will feature animated weather information
with a full local-weather segment every two minutes, while Weatherscan Radar will offer
continuous Doppler radar and severe-weather advisories.
Those two services will be delivered via Weather Star XL.
AccuWeather also offers a local Doppler-radar channel.
Weatherscan Plus, which debuts April 30, can also be
tailored to an operator's needs to include additional content such as lifestyle
weather information for golf, skiing, boating, the beach and travel.
Weatherscan Plus Traffic will offer the customizable
content of Weatherscan Plus, as well as traffic information updated throughout the day.
Weatherscan Español is a Spanish-language version of
Weatherscan Plus, to which operators will also be able to add regional or international
Weatherscan Plus Traffic and Weatherscan Español will both
debut May 31.
Weatherscan Plus, Weatherscan Plus Traffic and Weatherscan
Español will be delivered to cable systems in a unique way: via the Internet, through a
terrestrial telecommunications link, to then air as video networks on television.
TWC believes that it will be the first programmer to
provide cable-network programming in this manner.
This Internet-delivery system will enable TWC to get those
networks off the ground quickly, and it means that TWC won't need additional
satellite capacity to provide those services, according to Bahns Stanley, TWC's
executive vice president of new media, local and digital products.
TWC is working on a rate card for the local-weather
services, said Dana Michaelis, the network's senior vice president of affiliate
relations. It will be flexible, with the license fees growing more expensive depending on
how complex the customization is, officials said.
In some cases, TWC believes that cable operators will be
willing to carry one of the local-weather services along with the national TWC on analog.
"We think that there is room on analog for some of
these services," Stanley said. "In Nevada, an operator might not use two weather
channels on analog, but in Florida, it might."
And five of the new services will have local-ad-sales
opportunities, including two minutes of local avails per hour and a text crawl in some
Cable operators that have Weather Star 4000 -- a headend
computer that provides weather forecasts on a system-by-system basis -- will get free
upgrades to Weather Star XL, which was developed by Silicon Graphics Inc. That upgrade is
costing TWC "tens of millions of dollars," Stanley said.
Cable operators that don't have Weather Star 4000 can
purchase the XL model from TWC for about $5,000, even through the programmer is actually
paying more than $6,000 itself for each unit.
In addition to the Weather Star XL upgrade plan, most
operators currently using "Weather Star III," a text-only product, will be
upgraded at no cost to the Weather Star 4000 graphic unit.