TV stations are increasingly turning to companies like Beat the Traffic, Radiate Media and Metro Traffic to give commuters more precise and timely information through on-air maps, charts and alternative routes. And they’re also delivering the information online and directly to viewers via mobile apps and email alerts. This is the last of four articles that are appearing this week and that collectively constitute a TVNewsCheck Special Report on Traffic Reporting.
High-Tech Data Driving Traffic Vendors
Gone are the days when TV stations relied on just helicopter fly-bys to tell the morning’s traffic story.
While traffic video is still an important piece of the story, many stations are also using vendors like Beat the Traffic, Radiate Media and Metro Traffic to give commuters more precise and timely information of where traffic in flowing and where it’s not.
On behalf of their client stations, the vendors collect traffic data and then to turn it into visually appealing on-air graphics, interactive online maps, mobile apps and email alerts.
Stations’ usage of such services varies widely. Some outsource all of their traffic coverage, including on-air talent, while others simply integrate these services into their own coverage.
“Traffic is an area where we feel there is a lot of opportunity for stations to differentiate [themselves],” says Andre Gueziec, CEO of Beat the Traffic. “We try to provide best-of-breed tools so stations can have a distinctive presence and can be the station where people stay for traffic.”
Beat the Traffic, owned by Triangle Software, sells a turnkey system that allows reporters to produce complete traffic segments, including real-time 3D traffic graphics, says Gueziec. It also offers a package for Web and mobile. It currently counts 55 TV stations as clients.
Radiate, formed through the merger of Matchbin and the radio and TV division of NAVTEQ Media Solutions, offers a suite of multiplatform traffic services, including on-air graphics and on-air talent. It’s working with about 80 TV stations.
“Mobile is definitely where we see our media growth coming,” says Jennifer Colleran, Radiate’s director of television relations. “Mobile is becoming a very important part of the offering that stations want to bring to their viewers.”
The other major player, Metro Traffic, was purchased by Clear Channel in April from Westwood One Radio. It provides interactive traffic maps through its Sigalert system, which is designed to work across multiple platforms. It allows users to chart favorite routes and look up estimated drive times, and also get email or text alerts on traffic tie-ups on those routes.
Metro Traffic declined to comment for this story. However, its website says it is working with more than 195 TV stations. Radio-Info.com last week reported that Metro Traffic is being “melded” with Clear Channel’s own Total Traffic Network.
The vendors use a variety of techniques to track what’s happening on local roads. Using sensors and cameras placed along the roads by the state departments of transportation and others, they are able to interpret the traffic flow on a road.
They also use data gathered from police and state DOTs on specific traffic incidents.
A recent development has been the use of digital crowd-sourcing to paint a more comprehensive picture of local traffic. The data is collected from commuters through various mobile devices.
Beat the Traffic, for instance, has developed a mobile traffic app that about 1.5 million people have downloaded. Users report their location either actively by clicking a button to send a message, or passively by agreeing to allow Beat the Traffic to track their location. With such data, the company can then tell how fast a commuter is travelling on a road.
The company has licensed that app to several TV stations to use under their own brands.
Data collection from mobile apps is just one small piece of the so-called probe data that Radiate is using to provide more precise traffic information. Through its NAVTEQ connection, it draws traffic info from shipping and trucking fleets, taxi companies, two-way personal navigation users and others.
“It’s enhanced our ability to tell the story of what’s going on and it’s increased the depth of coverage so we’re no longer talking just about major freeways,” says Radiate Colleran. “We’re talking about secondary and tertiary roads.”
There’s so much information, the challenge has become editing the traffic data and making it meaningful for stations and their viewers, says Colleran. If broadcasters plugged in all the data they had onto a traffic map, “it would look like a Christmas tree.”
Instead, Radiate customizes its traffic maps in consultation with stations to provide information on the most important commuter routes.
Providing alternative routes for commuters is a growing trend. Beat the Traffic offers stations an online routing widget, where drivers can see a side-by-side comparison of the most direct route versus a Beat the Traffic alternative route based on current traffic conditions.
Radiate also offers stations online interactive traffic maps that allow drivers to plug in their route and receive drive-time predictions via their phones.
Waze, a social media traffic app, gives users turn-by-turn directions to their destination, using live traffic data gathered from other users. About eight million drivers are actively using the app, up from two million last December, according to the company. The app not only gathers GPS data from users, but it also allows users to post comments on traffic tie-ups, much like Twitter.
This summer, during Los Angeles’ famed “carmaggedon” when the city’s 405 freeway was closed for a weekend, KABC reached out to Waze to provide traffic routing information that was used on-air and online. The station and Waze have maintained the relationship since.
“That was a pivotal point for the company,” said Waze spokesman Michal Habdank-Kolaczkowski.
Waze is also working with Belo’s WFAA Dallas is in talks with several other TV stations, according to Habdank-Kolaczkowski. “We’re trying to be a complementary source of information for traffic. It’s a chance for TV stations to really engage with their audience.”
Read the other stories in this Special Report on Traffic Reporting here.