It used to be the 10 minutes we all waited for. Plans for the next day — with an eye toward the weekend —
Meteorologist Dick Albert was as famous during my youth as Dwight Evans. In elementary school, we wrote letters to celebrities and asked them to send us something — a photo, autograph, or other memorabilia. Albert sent us a notecard with a caricature of himself. His tie on the card would change color depending on the weather outside. We were transfixed.
Today, we can get anything on our handheld devices, so why bother putting any news on television? Not so fast. News reporting is content and context. It requires storytelling. Reporting the weather, however, is a commodity. It’s a number or a graphic. The information merely needs to be relayed — and quickly. That’s why weather apps are used more routinely than apps that serve up news or music.
Yes, meteorology is a science. Divining a forecast will always require meteorologists to analyze weather models and make predictions. Their work remains vital.
But relaying that information on the nightly TV news has been made redundant. The best analogy is a phone camera. It used to be that before a big event, people would go to the store to purchase a disposable camera. Cellphone cameras evolved the disposable right out of existence.
So what should local news stations do? David Gerzof Richard, a marketing expert and communications instructor at Emerson College, has an idea. “They should embrace mobile,” he said. “Newsrooms that can see, understand, and adapt to how local news is being consumed using mobile devices will probably be around to report the news in the next five to seven years.”
And on-air weather forecasters? “Unless they figure out how to carve out a place in the local and mobile Web, the outlook is cloudy for the future of the on-air weatherman,” Richard said.
Of course, there is still a chunk of Americans (28 percent) who don’t have smartphones, some of whom, perhaps, await the nightly forecast eagerly. But given the speed of this technological transformation, the number of Americans with cellphones will eventually reach the number of Americans with television sets — presently around 97 percent. So it is inevitable.
Local news stations need to adapt or be left behind. Consumers have already demonstrated that they will shell out money for a good weather app, whose market is dominated by national, not local, models. Wired Magazine has called the very popular Dark Sky app, which costs $3.99, a “cult-favorite.”
And a few local stations are trying. I’ve downloaded a couple local weather apps. I appreciate the effort, but none makes me want to abandon the stock app, powered by The Weather Channel, which comes with my iPhone.
On-air weather broadcasts have been on television since 1936. But holding on to something simply because of a glorious past isn’t the way forward.
Boston conducted the world’s first public radio transmission of weather back in 1925. With its knack for innovation, it should reinvent the local forecast again.
Read why television weathercasters aren’t going away here.
Mike Ross is a former Boston city councilor and attorney. He writes regularly for the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @mikeforboston.