Like CPAC/CSPAN, But Online, And With Complaints About Garbage Pick-Up
April 26, 2012 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Currently live coverage of my city's council meeting is only available on the local access channel of a cable provider, to which I am not subscribed. This got me curious about the whats and hows and costs of livestreaming video coverage of city council and committee meetings.

-Presumably at least 3 video cameras would be required; one for wide shots of the council, one for individual shots for councilors who rise to speak, the Speaker, etc., and one for petitioners and others who come to speak before council. What types of commercially available cameras would be appropriate?

-Vision mixing/switching. There is open source software available to enable this, but I have no clue, specwise, of the machine needed to handle at least three video streams being switched to and fro. What would be needed to hook up at least three cameras (And audio, natch) to said machine? Would they plug into a mixing board which would then feed into the computer? The machine would also need to enable lower thirds/chyrons/captioning, I presume.

-Bandwidth costs for livestreaming. I know nothing about bandwidth, how it's priced, how it's measured, etc. How much would be required to stream, say, an average of 5 hours of video to an audience of, say, 10000 viewers (Arbitrary number), and how much would that cost? And what's needed to actually get the livestream out onto the internets?

-Archiving. Ideally, all previous sessions would be archived, which brings us once again to bandwidth. Or could such things be legitimately archived via resources like YouTube?

Basically, my question comes down to costs and hardware of such an endeavor. I am sure that there are a plenty of municipal governments that already do this, any examples you could provide would be appreciated!
posted by Alvy Ampersand to Technology (13 answers total)
Apologies for lack of detail, but many small cities use Justin TV for this sort of thing.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:27 AM on April 26, 2012

No apology needed!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:30 AM on April 26, 2012

"one for wide shots of the council, one for individual shots for councilors who rise to speak, the Speaker, etc., and one for petitioners and others who come to speak before council."

Our (school board) meetings use two -- one for a wide shot of the whole board, one pointed at the podium where people come to speak. Usually someone at least loosely monitors the podium camera and adjusts it for height, and then when public speaking time is done, points it at the board. Sometimes they split the cameras half and half, tightening down so each of the two cameras records half the board; sometimes they have one wide shot and someone using the other camera for close-ups. Our less-important meetings usually just have one camera and it's moved around or just left on a wide shot of the board the whole time.

In my state there are some state grants for local government bodies to live webcast in my state, but I think it's only available for county-level bodies.

I know our website provider, which does school websites with all the various back-end you want for a school system (homework posting, learning modules, sub scheduling, newsletters, menus, etc.), also provides video streaming for districts that want to live-stream, but we at present aren't doing that. I'm not sure what the added cost is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:35 AM on April 26, 2012

Oh, another option we've discussed is live audio only; a surprising number of people LISTEN to public body meetings on the radio, and we've had several requests for live audio streaming and archived mp3s. That might be cheaper.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:36 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

As an example from my area, there's some non-technical information in a report (p. 14 of this PDF) about implementing a council webcast. Basically it's $40K for two cameras and a control console, $10K/year for external hosting, plus staff time. This is the result. It looks like they're using EarthChannel to deal with hosting and archiving; I assume there's other companies offering the same kind of thing.
posted by parudox at 10:04 AM on April 26, 2012

If your city is already broadcasting its meetings, it seems to me that the parts about cameras and video equipment are already taken care of. Your city could simply split the video feed going to the encoder for the public access channel and stream that. Many cities, including my current city of residence and former hometown, stream their public access channel over the Internet full-time, including council meetings.
posted by fireoyster at 10:04 AM on April 26, 2012

My town uses Granicus for minutes and streaming media management (archives and real-time). I subscribe to the RSS feed for MP3s of the council meetings. The local public access channel manages the cameras, I'm not sure how the whole thing ties together but if you've got specific questions I know the right people to ask.

For starters, though, I'd be tempted to see if you can hook up a video capture card on your public access TV feed and send that into Ustream. That's something any citizen can do, and you can then use that as the basis for defining interest and needs and such.
posted by straw at 10:35 AM on April 26, 2012

When I used to shoot school board meetings we used a two camera-one operator setup similar to what Eyebrows McGee described. For those broadcasts though, the costs were being covered by a fee paid by cable users (and subtly advertised as one of things you could only get with cable).
posted by drezdn at 11:21 AM on April 26, 2012

Our local school board recently purchased equipment to do this. THe budgeted amount (I do not know the actual spend amount) was $20,000 in equipment. Do not know what bandwidth costs or how it is allocated in the budget. They are archived on the district's website.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:25 AM on April 26, 2012

My County uses Granicus, too. I don't know who sets it up, but it's nice because someone goes in and marks the beginning of each item on the agenda, which can save a lot of time of scanning through audio or video to find your item of interest. But this could be done on YouTube in the comments with YouTube time codes, and block comments. Viola, free hosting!
posted by filthy light thief at 1:30 PM on April 26, 2012

Granicus here as well.
posted by dhartung at 1:41 PM on April 26, 2012

Thanks for the responses, everyone!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:13 PM on April 28, 2012

Oh, I'd also note: When I got appointed to my town's Technology Advisory Committee (an advisory body, but we've still gotta file all the ethics paperwork, sigh), we didn't yet have the Granicus package that had all of the cool bits, and there were some people complaining about codec licensing and lack of downloads and stuff like that, so I whipped up some code to grab the Windows MediaPlayer stream from meetings and cache and convert it to downloadable files in various formats.

I then wrote emails to the complainers, and waited. I think it was used twice, and one of those was the city's IT manager testing it out.

So don't be surprised if you put a lot of effort out there and hear crickets.

I suspect that the reason we have all the coolness now is that there were a few other usable bits in the package, and Granicus realized that their streaming costs were lower than they'd previously suspected.
posted by straw at 11:33 AM on May 3, 2012

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