Local Weather Forecast: Enhancements Due

Next year, The Weather Channel really wants to bring local forecasts home for affiliates and viewers.

Trading on IntelliStar, the fifth generation of its localization technology known as Weather Star, The Weather Channel will equip MSO headends with a platform that will enhance the service's "Local on the 8s" on-air component, which appears six times hourly, with new features relevant to a particular viewing area.

For example, in areas where a storm is approaching, local radar will remain on the screen for a longer duration, or if an area is engulfed in oppressively hot or humid conditions, heat-safety tips will appear.

Patrick Scott, president of The Weather Channel Networks, said agreements to install IntelliStar technology are already in place with Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications Inc., while negotiations continue with other MSOs.

TWC Networks vice president and general manager of affiliate sales Pam Bertino said the discussions with affiliates that have already contracted for Weather Star center on patent provisions and the use of the equipment, rather than any monetary terms.

Scott anticipates that the necessary equipment will be inserted in headends reaching 89% of Weather's current 86 million subscriber base by the close of second quarter 2004. Bertino noted that the remaining systems would ultimately receive refurbished equipment, after MSOs in the initial installation wave return theirs.

Scott noted that Weather's game plan calls for the rollout of the new equipment to take place according to the size of the DMA, rather than in an MSO-wide fashion. Provided that agreements can be reached with the MSOs, headends controlled by Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems Corp. and serving the New York DMA would be outfitted first.

"This technology further enhances our localization efforts to help operators serve their customers better," he said. "Providing more relevant localized forecasts is another tool for us against our primary competition, local TV stations."

Over the past nine months, IntelliStar technology has been deployed by Weatherscan, Weather's all-local weather network that is expected to reach 7 million homes by year-end. Weather did an alpha test with the service on premises at its Atlanta headquarters and is currently involved with Beta testing with a number of Cox and Comcast systems.

Scott said the process has gone smoothly save for occasional moments of "jittery video, frame freezes and some fonts that needed to be changed."

With IntelliStar in place, other customized forecast additions features that will pop up on Local on the 8s will include: "Getaway Forecast," which will provide an update on conditions for nearby vacation hotspots, like the Poconos and Catskills for those living in the New York area; "Expanded Vocal Local," an expanded 36-hour local forecast; marine forecasts for coastal areas; and air-quality reports for all large and medium-sized cities.