(Shane Smith, from WYMT in Hazard, KY, offeres a great post with a look at some options for weather graphics. Digital is the a great equalizer. Thanks, Shane!)
For those of us who have been in the TV weather business for any length of time, we know how expensive a weather graphics display system can be. The hardware and software to make your local weather man or woman appear in front of those fancy maps and forecasts can costs tens of thousands of dollars, if not 6-figure cash. That’s not including the cameras, lights and studio equipment that allow the whole production to be put together. It can be mind-numbing and jaw-dropping how much a station can spend on a weather department, and it’s because weather is one of the main reasons people turn to broadcast news.
But what if I we’re to also tell you that there is a new generation of weather content providers coming? What if I were to tell you they are able to produce similar content on a much smaller budget from the comfort of their own home? Would you believe me? Check out this video from one of those members of the new generation from Neoweather .
While it may lack some of the polish of a traditional weather broadcast, all the core elements are there. Radar, satellite, forecast pages, pretty much everything you’d expect to see on the nightly news. Most of the guys at Neoweather are aspiring meteorologists or weather hobbyists, but they are part of a growing trend of people from non-traditional sources getting into the weather game. I don’t know Brian Ivey or any of the guys running that site, but I have to give them props for following their passion and putting together a pretty decent product.
Now back to the original point, it didn’t take too much start-up cost to get that netcast up and running. First thing you need is a computer, PC or MAC, pick your poison. You can get a “suitable” desktop PC from any of your big name chain stores for around $600 or less. Next you need some kind of screen capture software that will allow Chorma Key integration. Chroma key technology is what replaces that green or blue wall with your weather maps for those who don’t know. One such piece of software is Xsplit and a year license costs around $55. There are other software options out there, just giving an option.
Need a camera and microphone; you can go as simple as a Logitech webcam, or as complex as a Cannon prosumer camcorder feeding from an HDMI output into a capture card. This is one of the areas where there is a lot of flexibility and the amount you spend varies on the quality you want.
How about some weather maps for the presentation? Several different options are there as you can always rip from online sources or you could use some of the outstanding software that is available now. You have the ever popular GR Earth which can be had for $25 monthly with an Allison House data package. There’s the very complex and robust Weather Studio software where a commercial license will run you $250. RadarScope varies in price depending on the platform you use, but gives you the best bang for your buck radar technology out there.
Forecast pages are a really not that hard to build. It takes a little time and effort to make them look sharp, but you can build basic ones in Microsoft Paint. If you’re looking for a step up from that try some open source art software like Artweaver, GIMP, or Inkscape. You can add in a weather icon package from a royalty free stock site like Pond 5 for just a minimal investment.
The last piece of the puzzle is some lighting and a green screen. There are so many different ways to do that I won’t list them all here; I’ll just leave this for you.
So let’s go just barebones essentials to get this off the ground:
That is a grand total of $935 to get off the ground. There are obvious places to upgrade and spend more money like a decent camera and microphone set up, plus some quality studio lights; but you can have a barebones home weather studio for less than $1,000.
So what are the implications to this? It pretty much means that anyone that wants to be in the broadcast weather game now can. $1,000 is not a huge sum of money, especially when compared to the budgets of your TV stations on how much they spend on their weather products. While this set up may not be as pretty or effective or as easy to use as a Baron’s, WSI or Weather Central rig… it’s hard not to look at the difference in cost. Will we see TV stations going this route anytime soon, I doubt it. But in a world of shrinking audience and revenues some may turn to a solution like this to save money.
Another implication is it truly puts power into the hands of the weather content provider (IE you!). Consider this; some of your big market meteorologists at TV stations have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. We all know station management is looking to save money and there have been and will continue to be good meteorologists laid off because the station will try to save a buck or two as the TV model continues to die. So let’s say one of those big market meteorologists gets the axe, and they take to the web and go independent. Say they had 100,000 followers from their station and 10% of them followed the meteorologist to a new independent web source for weather. Let’s say another 10% of that 10% (IE 1,000) were willing to donate or pay $5 a month for weather content (or enhanced weather content). That’s $5,000 a month in revenue… that’s not a bad living for most people.
The fact of the matter is while the industry as a whole is figuring out how to survive, the ground is becoming ripe for a major paradigm shift in the world of weather. We live in an on demand and crowdsourcing funded world now, but we still develop our products to meet a deadline driven TV timetable. Kevin has mentioned it time and time again here, but how many places can your audience get Partly Sunny and 72 for their forecast now? Hundreds of places, but we as professionals know that data and that forecast sucks. But that forces us to try to take our products to the next level. We know the area’s we live in, we know the areas we serve better than any computer or any forecaster out of State College or Atlanta does. We’ve got to find ways to use that expertise to show people we have the better product.
Chances are if you’re reading this blog regularly, these are all thoughts that have been on your mind lately. We’re in the business of predicting the future and a lot of us are seeing storms on the horizon. So what are you doing to prepare? How are you building your brand? This is a great place to share ideas and spur discussions, and try to figure out to survive the changing face of multi-media weather.