Monday night council meetings are a thing to behold! They are open to the public and while many citizens do attend, the process of a council meeting, which can be long and tedious, is often just a bit to late, or early (or dull) to attend in person.
Hey, the city gets that, and for several years the civic goings on of our wise and venerable Mayor & Council have been available on TV on the Shaw community channel. It makes for some … er … riveting viewing … but at least you can do so in the comfort of your own home and with a brewskie or two. In fact I know of a few folks so infused with civic pride that they have made these meetings a regular drinking game with friends! I don’t quite know how this works, a drink for every motion? Each time Councilor McEvoy mentions the poor and downtrodden? Each time a civic supplicant humbly offers up a set of ‘special’ T-shirts to M&C? Perhaps a swizzle each time the ever-smiling Councillor McIntosh flashes those pearly whites? I don’t know, but it sounds like a good time!
But what happens to those of us in our increasingly fragmented media landscape who do not have access to Shaw’s service? There was a time when the radio was the universal communicator and could reliably provide information about local proceedings, alien invasion etc., but today, many media compete to deliver the message. Many folks receive their cable service from a different provider or via satellite. Others don’t have cable or, like us, have no TV channels at all coming into our house. Increasingly, families are cutting their TV services and turning to the Internet for news, events and entertainment. Now no doubt, all of these groups are a minority, but it is a growing minority, an ever-widening slice of the pie.
What would council do to address these lost eyeballs? As related in a recent blog post by Record Reporter Theresa McManus our intrepid M&C directed staff to study the cost of streaming council meetings over the internet via video to the taxalicious cost of close to $25k per year and a one time $25k set up cost. A mind-boggling sum! Incredulity from the younger members of council filled the air as our august body of sober leaders absorbed the high cost implications of communicating data via a medium known for cheap or free broadcasting. (I can see it now, Cote and McEvoy rolling their eyes in unison as if they have just witnessed their grandfolks trying to change the TV channel with an iPod). Thankfully curiosity (or procrastination) prevailed, and our beloved M&C chose to look further into what the whippersnappers say is popular with those crazy kids today.
While there are special considerations governments must consider when choosing new technology, there are several popular free live video streaming services on the Internet, including Ustream, Justin.tv, and more. With a webcam or video camera and a tripod (we’ll even loan you ours), a laptop and an Internet connection, Council could test public response to streaming video at very little cost. If a more robust solution is needed, then they could consider spending a little more on a proprietary solution or invest some staff or contractor time to slice & dice the video into shorter, subject-specific segments that could be made available for watching & embedding via YouTube or another free video hosting service. Ustream and Justin.tv both also offer live chat integration with Facebook, so council could broadcast meetings and those watching could share real-time feedback via Facebook chat. How’s that for public participation?
Meanwhile, as if to say, “Look, it’s not rocket science people!”, local resident Matthew Laird ( Quayside board President and also on the board of NWEP & the Royal City Farmers Market, active on various committees, and a former provincial and civic candidate) has been industriously tweeting about how it can be done easily and has uploaded video from every council meeting since December. Says Matt:
I’m still getting my process down, determining what video format to post them in, getting my routine down to record and post them, etc. I think I have a system in place now…I agree with Jonathan’s comment…it should easily be possible for less than $20,000. Sounds like an excuse not to get the issue done.
Sure it is little grainy and may take 5-10 minutes to load but Laird’s work clearly demonstrates that with a minimum of effort and flexibility, streaming council meetings over the web can be done. What is more, they can be viewed at any time – not just on the broadcast date. For the referees in us who want to review the tapes before calling the penalty, these files can be stored and reviewed for reference should the need arise. As with Pitt Meadows and North Vancouver, the Royal City should also leap into the digital era and allow all residents to monitor council proceedings, and review them at will, via the Internet.