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NYC TV Week: Weather Helps Drive Bilingual News Audiences

New York -- Spanish-language television stations and their English-language counterparts seeking to expand their reach in the Hispanic community need to literally determine which way the wind is blowing.

At a panel session at the NYC TV Week Hispanic TV event Wednesday, NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations president Valari Staab said that weather is one of the most desired news segments for the Spanish-speaking community -- and one of the most overlooked by other Spanish-language programmers.

Staab said when she first took over the group in 2013, she did some research, asking Spanish-speaking viewers what made them watch English-language news the most.

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“It was dominantly weather,” Staab said at the panel session titled Two Stations, One Voice: Meeting the Needs of Today’s Bilingual News Audiences, moderated by B&C senior content producer -- programming Michael Malone. “And it was because the Spanish-language television stations had not paid attention to [the] weather. They typically didn’t have meteorologists -- they had weather presenters but not meteorologists -- and they didn’t pay attention to how they were presenting the weather. We decided [that] a big competitive advantage would be to really go after weather and give them the best weather [coverage] they could get anywhere.”

NBCUniversal, which owns about 42 NBC and Telemundo stations in 30 markets across the country, has gone deep on the weather. Staab said the company has invested heavily on weather radar and apps, including offering severe weather notifications in Spanish.

Telemundo Station Group senior vice president of news, standards and digital Ozzie Martinez said that having both English language and Spanish language stations lends to greater collaboration.

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“We are fortunate in Miami because most of the NBC on-air reporters are bilingual,” Martinez said. ”...[When] a big storm is coming, all of a sudden the Telemundo reporters can also be reporting on NBC and vice versa and we have now doubled our on-air resources.”

Staab added that Spanish-speaking viewers tend to be younger and more open to innovation than they’re English-speaking counterparts.

“We made a multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment to weather about three years ago,” Staab said. "We now own the largest private group of weather radar systems in the nation.” That radar capability includes about six mobile radar units that can be placed just about anywhere to track a storm -- she said they are particularly helpful in coastal areas and can get places the National Weather Service can’t -- and six fixed radar units.

“It’s live all the time, so when you go on our apps or you’re watching on our air, you see exactly what’s happening,” Staab said, adding that NBCU is also investing in augmented reality to help explain weather events more clearly, and apps with proprietary weather technology.

“Uniquely in Spanish we’re the only app where you can get local severe weather alerts in Spanish,” Staab said. “That is one area that has been neglected on the Spanish language side.”