WeatherHost Makes Debut

By: Jim Rosenberg

As part of weather information provider AccuWeather Inc.’s efforts to help newspapers attract 18- to 34-year-old readers, the State College, Pa., company introduced its WeatherHost at Nexpo last month.

One of four tools the company designed to appeal to those more likely to navigate pages on a Web site than pages of newsprint, WeatherHost aims to “point them back to a newspaper’s print edition” through use of a speaking animation that can be customized to represent the familiar face and use the real voice of a personality associated with a newspaper — a popular local columnist, for example, or even a mascot of some sort. The animation can include breaking news and promotional information in addition to weather forecasts.

The brand-building virtual weathercasters are produced through AccuWeather’s partnership with New York-based Oddcast, a five-year-old developer and distributor of Web-based, ASP-hosted speaking-character products. Its [V]Host technology enables non-programmers to make and embed the animated characters into Web pages and e-mails.

A newspaper need only provide Oddcast with a photograph of the person upon whom the animation will be modeled and a photograph to serve as a backdrop. AccuWeather, according to account executive Lance Baird, will provide text or voice to accompany the animation, or the customer may (at lower cost) provide a voice recording to Oddcast.

Newspapers also can drop local ads into the animation session by sending advertisers’ videos to Oddcast, said Baird.

WeatherHost became available in May. Possibly as early as the end of this year, depending on technology and bandwidth availability, said Baird, the virtual weathercaster capability, “is going to come to the [cellular] phone.”

Other AccuWeather cross-promotion tools are wireless products to supply branded weather messages to readers’ cell phones, Web-based brand promotions (including a desktop bug that continually displays a newspaper’s logo with current local weather and other information and an e-mail service offering personalized forecasts and severe-weather warnings), and sponsorable opportunities such as the WeatherStand touch-screen kiosk for high-traffic public places.

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