Public Weather Media Service
Heralding a new horizon of weather broadcasts.
Times are changing in broadcast media. Audiences demand instant, easily accessible and compelling weather information - but so do the broadcasters delivering forecasts. For the Met Office, this presented an exciting opportunity to introduce two new, cutting-edge services. Television remains the main source of weather information for most of us. But the popularity of apps and social media is altering our interaction with it. Attention spans are shortening. Impressive visual content is a must.
As an organisation with a long relationship with the media industry, and a commitment to circulating weather information to as wide an audience as possible, the Met Office saw a chance to take forecasting to the next level.
Launching on 1 July following 18 months of development, the Public Weather Media Service (PWMS) offers UK broadcasters a comprehensive package of Met Office data - from forecasts and observations to weather warnings and general guidance - all delivered by Met Office meteorologists with expert knowledge of broadcast media. As Claire Goldstraw, Met Office Strategic Head of Broadcast Media explains: "In a nutshell, we've pulled together every bit of weather information a broadcaster might need to be able to put out a bulletin."
The service is free at the point of use for any UK broadcaster. The only stipulation is a license. However, a broadcaster doesn't actually have to be a licensee to have a say in its development. As well as consulting with broadcasters during its creation, the Public Weather Service Customer Group, the body responsible for overseeing the Public Weather Service on behalf of the public, reporting to and advising the Minister of State for Universities and Science, has established a sub-group dedicated to PWMS. That group met in April for the first time, bringing together the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4, Sky and S4C representatives. "Licensing PWMS isn't a prerequisite for being involved - any broadcaster who wants to join the customer group and give us feedback is welcome," says Claire.
The continuing collaboration between the Met Office and broadcasters is crucial to the future success of PWMS in Claire's opinion - and there are already plans afoot to enhance the functionality it offers and the benefits it brings. "We see it as a living thing, an evolving service that responds to the shifting ways in which people consume information nowadays," she explains.
PWMS was born out of a deep understanding of what contemporary broadcasters need - and what today's audiences demand. "Things need to be turned around very quickly," explains Claire.
"At the same time, presenters look for specific facts - when it last snowed in May or the wettest March on record, for example - that help them tell the story of the weather on that particular day." PWMS will have a huge role to play in that, but it's not alone.
2016 also saw the launch of Visual Cortex, the Met Office's highly sophisticated weather visualisation software. Visual Cortex graphics are both engaging and informative. The new graphic software is used daily for our public output such as the National Weather video forecasts on our website and new app. It puts an exciting range of tools at broadcasters' fingertips - from fly-throughs and 3D visuals to touchscreen capabilities that let presenters manipulate imagery during a broadcast, just like sports pundits do. Links with social media enable direct, on-the-spot engagement with the public: if someone has tweeted a picture of heavy snow in Leicester, the weather presenter can immediately pull up that image, which automatically geolocates, on to the screen. There's an exciting development roadmap ahead, with virtual reality just one idea that's on the table.
"The beauty of Visual Cortex is how it creates graphics that are incredibly attractive and compelling, but using a technical platform that's also highly flexible," Claire says.
"Different broadcasters will be using the same software, but each will produce something very different, because they can configure the visuals to fit their brand's look and feel."
The next step for Visual Cortex is exploring how it can be utilised in other parts of the Met Office to upgrade our weather visualisation. "While it was conceived for broadcast media, the simple yet powerful way in which it communicates the weather could significantly enhance things like weather warnings," says Claire. And that could impact on everything from transport to retail.