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Firm Expands Ways to Get Weather

December 3, 2006

By Jennifer Thomas, The Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa.

Dec. 3–FERGUSON TOWNSHIP — Today, the weather business is about a lot more than just accurately predicting rain, snow or sunshine.

These days it’s about providing consumers specialized, localized television channels, Internet offerings and cell phone forecasts, said Joel Myers, founder and CEO of State College-based AccuWeather.

“They want their local weather, and they want it in as many forms as possible,” he said.

In the past 18 months, the company has rolled out The Local AccuWeather Channel, a television channel providing local weather information, and a Third-Screen Network for mobile devices to meet those demands.

It is also working to develop a separate interactive channel that would allow cable and Internet Protocol television consumers to pick and choose weather based on their interests.

“The Weather Channel effectively had a monopoly on cable,” Myers said. “There’s room for something with a different approach. The weather is the most in-demand item on the Internet. It’s the reason people watch local news.”

Officials from Atlanta-based The Weather Channel said in an e-mail the company does not comment on its competition.

AccuWeather’s launch of a localized weather channel provides new options for local content 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s something that only became possible with digital cable transmission, which allowed more space on the airwaves, Myers said.

The company has found willing partners in major markets nationwide, including New York and Los Angeles. Financial heavyweight Bloomberg recently added AccuWeather to its lineup.

Currently, there are 50 cities under contract to launch the Local AccuWeather Channel during the next several months.

“We’re signing stations every day to enlarge that,” Myers said.

For the channel, the company has created a localized setup screen that features an L-shaped bar that continuously shows local weather conditions, forecast, radar and advertising.

A portion of the screen is dedicated to broadcasts from local weather reports, AccuWeather’s reports or any other content a local station chooses to air.

Several of AccuWeather’s forecasters spend much of the day in front of a “green screen,” where they use information from local stations to tailor their forecasts to a particular market. Radar images and maps appear behind the forecaster on the green screen. The setup also is used to provide information to television stations that contract with AccuWeather to provide their local forecasts.

“There’s every possible combination of what you want to do,” said Lee Rainey, vice president of marketing. “This is very much the future.”

The company also is focusing on other emerging technologies in an effort to provide its product to more consumers.

Available options, such as the Third-Screen network, allow cell phone users to call up local weather forecasts from the Internet or from a recording by a weather forecaster. The forecasts are part of a standard service, which includes a new and sports, financial information and advertising. It can also be expanded for other information needs.

The company is also developing its interactive television channel as part of the ICTV Active Video Distribution Network, which will enable operators, programmers and advertisers to bring broadband video programming and advertising from the Internet to television.

The channel will offer users real-time forecasts and allow them to use their remote controls to choose the portions of the forecast that interest them the most. The customized viewing includes searchable local forecasts, animated satellite-generated weather maps and local television broadcast programming.

“So as new, nonbroadcast, interactive services roll out around the world, AccuWeather will be among the first programming to be offered,” Rainey said.

These efforts position AccuWeather to increase its name recognition and its ability to draw advertising revenue, Myers said.

People “want the local weather and they want it in as many forms as possible,” he said.

The company receives the same weather data that numerous other companies do, from sources such as the National Weather Service. AccuWeather then puts its own unique spin on graphics and presentation, providing localized information for 43,000 ZIP codes.

“Half of what we do is great service. Half of what we do is great presentation,” Rainey said. “It’s a forecast geared to what you need.”

The company has evolved since its inception in 1962. With the goal of one day serving the media, AccuWeather got its start catering to commercial businesses, such as ski resorts and the commodity industry.

When it decided to embrace emerging Internet technology, it took a step that’s made AccuWeather and AccuWeather. com household names, Myers said. The company has been referenced in television shows and movies such as “CSI” and “Ice Age.” Its forecasters are called upon as experts by major media outlets when severe weather threatens.

The company’s Web site provides such extras as The Frizz index, which tells users how the day’s weather will affect their hair, or the arthritis or asthma indexes for those suffering from the diseases.

“It’s that type of expertise in working with and interpreting that information is what really set us apart,” Rainey said.

The company caters to more than 175,000 clients in all industries worldwide.

Its 387 employees worldwide work to develop new technology and new ways to provide the information consumers want.

“I think that competition is part of the reason for our success, because we like challenges,” Myers said.

Jennifer Thomas can be reached at 231-4638.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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