New technology from AccuWeather and Weather Services International make it possible for TV stations to combine weather data and traffic maps. The new systems can show a storm rolling in over the real-time traffic map, pull up live Department of Transportation camera feeds capturing the backup and even display Twitter and Facebook updates from drivers stuck in the mess.
Traffic And Weather Now Go Hand-In-Hand
TV meteorologists have always made the logical connection between bad weather and traffic patterns: Nice weather should mean normal traffic conditions. An ugly snowstorm will more than likely clog the major roadways.
Two traditional weather system suppliers are now letting meteorologists show those connections in new ways on air using radars, traffic cameras and 3D graphics.
AccuWeather today is unveiling a new traffic app for its StoryTeller touchscreen platform. It will vie against Weather Services International’s (WSI) Max Traffic solution, introduced at the 2012 NAB Show and now in use at about 60 stations across the United States and Canada. Both use traffic data provided by Inrix.
AccuWeather’s new traffic app lets talent not only display and interact with current traffic conditions, but also overlay active weather radar graphics on top of those traffic maps to forecast the impact the weather plays on the traffic.
Ryan Ayers, VP display systems and services at AccuWeather, says the traffic app provides minute-by-minute forecasting at a street level.
“We’re going to be able to show where rain is going to begin at a certain time and a certain place,” he says. “Then we will also know how it affects the traffic. It gives us an advantage to be able to tell that whole story.”
Sinclair’s WKRC Cincinnati will be the first station to go live with the new app. While the Queen City doesn’t come close to the traffic jams experienced in major markets like New York and Los Angeles, there are more than 188,000 people who commute to and from the metro area each day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Only 3.9% of those commuters use public transportation.
Kirk Varner, news director for the CBS affiliate, says AccuWeather’s solution replaces an older traffic system that he declined to name. The station has used AccuWeather’s StoryTeller touchscreen daily for a few months, showing off social media comments from viewers, in addition to using it to supplement weather and news coverage. The traffic app will be added to the fold in the coming weeks.
“It’s going to allow the talent to truly interact with the traffic,” Varner says.
Under the old traffic system, Varner says the station’s main traffic reporter, Bob Herzog, could reference any traffic problems — either accidents or nasty weather — that commuters might face in their morning drive, but could never display that same information seamlessly in an interactive, graphical way.
With the new traffic system, Herzog can now show a storm rolling in over the real-time traffic map, pull up live Department of Transportation camera feeds capturing the backup and even display Twitter and Facebook updates from drivers at a standstill.
“We’re trying to make traffic as informative as possible,” Varner says. “It’s been a piece of the puzzle that’s been missing.”
WSI’s Max Traffic solution also allows broadcasters to overlay weather information, be it radars or graphical information like wind and visibility.
Max Traffic can deliver high-resolution, 3D graphics to make on-air reports look more sophisticated, but those traffic reports will simply look better now that it’s under the same WSI umbrella as a station’s weather system, says Bill Dow, SVP media division at WSI. “The look is just more consistent. There’s no noticeable differences when you’re switching between those two areas of coverage, which is important.”
KUSA Denver went live with Max Traffic in May and frequently incorporates weather forecasts into its morning traffic report. KUSA traffic reporter Amelia Earhart shows off the integration of weather and traffic in this video:
Earhart says the station has received nothing but positive feedback from viewers about the weather and traffic integration.
“I still make sure to let viewers know that they’re seeing the traffic map with the weather overlaid on it to avoid any confusion,” she says. “Normally with a change this big, we would have viewers calling in asking about it, but there hasn’t been a negative moment yet.”
Max Traffic is also being used at NBC’s KNBC Los Angeles and ABC’s KTRK Houston.
Any traffic solution for broadcasters is only as good as its data. Both WSI’s and AccuWeather’s solution use Inrix as its traffic data provider. Seattle-based Inrix, now in its seventh year of business, aggregates data from more than 100 different sources, including road sensors that governments build into highways in major urban areas and crowd-sourced data from consumers using the company’s smartphone app.
The biggest challenge Inrix is trying to overcome to make its traffic technology more accurate is giving an even more zoomed-in approach, especially on long roadways, says Jim Bak, Inrix senior marketing manager. He says most traffic systems rely on legacy mapping technology that doesn’t always give a completely accurate picture of the traffic.
Under existing technology, maps on traffic systems are broken into segments of road. If there’s an impact on a specific point in that segment — no matter its length — the entire segment becomes affected on a map. There could be a four-mile piece of road with an accident two or three miles in, resulting in a traffic slow down. If a station is relying only on the traffic system technology (a broadcaster could spot the accident, for example, by helicopter and manually input the information), the entire segment would show up as a traffic jam on the map, including the areas not specifically affected by the accident.
“We’re going to move away from having to lock things to those industry schemas and we’re going to be able to be much more granular about how fast or slow traffic is moving on long roadways, which allows us to potentially provide better alternative routes, better travel times and just overall better information,” Bak says.
One way of accomplishing that is by taking more information from vehicles on the road that use Inrix’s real-time navigation system. Inrix’s navigation technology is found in Ford, BMW, Audi, Toyota and Mercedes vehicles. Bak says BMW executives have said they could provide information back to Inrix, such as when a traction control system activates, or windshield wipers start moving.
“With that information, we can not only give the best route possible during a major snowstorm, but also the safest route,” Bak says.
A majority of Inrix’s media business is through partnerships with broadcast production manufacturers like AccuWeather and WSI. But by month’s end it plans on releasing its own traffic production system that’s geared toward smaller-market TV stations.
The Inrix enterprise traffic system comes in the form of an iPad app called Inrix TV that lets reporters create quick traffic reports from the field or in the studio. The app is available as a beta with limited features for free download from Apple’s iTunes App Store. Once available next month, a broadcaster would pay between $5,000 and $30,000 for an annual license, depending on market size.
While Inrix will offer the solution as an affordable traffic system for smaller stations, the company will also pitch it to larger stations on the portable solution as a handy ENG tool that lets traffic journalists build reports from the scene of accidents or during treacherous weather.
A reporter builds a traffic report by creating clips — a combination of Inrix’s real-time traffic maps and even recordings of a car accident, for example, using the camera on the iPad — and dropping them into a timeline. Once completed, the report, via the iPad, can be played back through Apple’s AirPlay technology to a monitor in the station, or plugged into a playout source in the field.
Inrix also plans on releasing a radio version of the app later this month.
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