AIR CHECK BY DIANA MARSZALEK

Viewers Use New App To Track Weather

The StormPins weather crowdsourcing app turns viewers into “junior meteorologists” by letting them mark, or “pin,” severe weather, as well as the damage it leaves behind, with photos and video on neighborhood maps so other folks know what’s heading their way. Emily Barr, CEO of Graham Media, is such a big believer in StormPins that the company invested in the app. “It really allows local television stations to build a kind of sense of community and reinforce the idea that viewers get to contribute.”

When a monster storm hit Detroit a week ago Sunday, WDIV meteorologists were on-air tracking its destructive path as it rolled through the area, showing photos pinpointing damage down to street level.

Images broadcast on the Graham Media-owned NBC affiliate showed golf ball-size hail that socked suburban Northville, and downed lines that left Roseville residents powerless. Pictures from Sterling Heights showed flooding in the country’s 11th largest market.  

Graham execs credit viewers with those “super-compelling photos,” thanks to a growing number signing on to contribute to weather coverage via StormPins, a new app that Graham is rolling out that promotes crowdsourcing weather coverage.

“Meteorologists at the stations now have all these junior meteorologists out there helping them,” says Graham President-CEO Emily Barr, who is such a big believer in StormPins that the company invested in the app. “It really allows local television stations to build a kind of sense of community and reinforce the idea that viewers get to contribute.”

Although TV station weather apps are a widespread phenomenon, StormPins is a new take on the technology that is a boon to broadcasters, as it boosts both viewer engagement and user-generated content that TV stations can use on-air, Barr says.

That’s because StormPins does not push weather forecasts, which is the gist of most station weather apps. Rather, the app provides a platform for users to mark, or “pin,” severe weather, as well as the damage it leaves behind, on neighborhood maps so other folks know what’s heading their way — or what to avoid, says StormPins CEO Chris Weldon.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Combining elements of social media, emergency alert systems and broadcast capabilities, the app offers specially coded “pins” that users can use to mark the sites of everything from tornados, ice and thunderstorms to downed trees, power lines and accidents. Broadcasters and emergency services can pinpoint situations, too, as well as sign on to use a feature that allows them to do things like issue severe weather and Amber alerts.

StormPins has chat-room style features that allow users to communicate, all of which is “turning the citizens into reporters,” Weldon says. “These people are warning each other about what’s going on,” he says. “You can see where it is happening and it makes it actionable.”

Users also can upload photos and video of the weather they’re tracking. That is something particularly attractive to broadcasters, as those who partner with StormPins have the right to air that content as soon as it becomes available, meaning they can show severe weather systems as they unfold rather than just their aftermath, they say.

Graham is the first station group to sign on to use StormPins, which has already been launched by NBC affiliate KPRC Houston and independent WJXT Jacksonville, Fla., in addition to WDIV. WKMG, the CBS affiliate in Orlando, Fla., will launch its version of StormPins tomorrow. Weldon says discussions with others are underway.

The concept is taking off with viewers.

About 30,000 unique users have signed into StormPins since the app first rolled out about six weeks ago, Weldon says. In Detroit, 8,100 users downloaded it during its first two days. Another 500 people downloaded the app within a few hours of the July 27 storm, which also yielded 700 “pins” and 590 photos.

KPRC Chief Meteorologist Frank Billingsley says StormPins has already played a role in boosting viewer safety. When users recently spotted a funnel cloud south of Houston, “I received within minutes no less than 12 StormPins from various angles and neighborhoods.

“This helps me warn my viewers and helps law enforcement possibly know where emergency help is needed,” he says.

Two weeks ago, a user captured the image of a gas station in flames after being hit by lightening. “That drove home the story of how dangerous lightening can be,” Billingsley says.

Catherine Badalamente, Graham’s VP of digital media, says those kinds of stories are what drew her to StormPins in the first place. “It puts you at the epicenter of the network and I love that.”

The app “hits on everything we need to do” which includes engaging viewers, differentiating weather coverage and making money, she says.

In some ways, it also appeases her “love-hate relationship with social media,” which is neither a reliable means of communicating in severe weather situations nor moneymaker.

Unlike Facebook, StormPins lets users, broadcasters and emergency services have direct, unfiltered communication, while also generating content that stations can use on-air, she says. Stations can also monetize the app, which currently includes sponsorships and standard ads.

Given the strong launch, Badalamente also believes StormPins will grow in both use and purpose. “I think this is one of those situations where we don’t even know the full potential,” she says. “The second phase will be learning about the audience, how they are engaging and trying to figure out the power of it.”

Read other Air Check columns here. You can send suggestions for future Air Checks to Diana Marszalek at [email protected].


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