Thursday, 14 July 2011

Birmingham City Council plan to stream LIVE PUBLIC MEETINGS

BCC on Ustream.tv
I've reported before that Birmingham City Council have streamed live video of their public meetings over the web. What I didn't know until now, is that they've only done it twice. 

In a three page document (Live Video Streaming of Full Council Meetings) which be discussed next Tuesday, 19 July 2011, Birmingham outline their experience and provide clear and concise plans for their future. This document is so open and detailed, it's a real example to other authorities.

I'm making it no secret that, I will email this post to Warwickshire County Council. In terms of population, Coventry has around 300,000 people where Warwickshire has 535,100. All the more reason Warwickshire should deliver democracy to the people in such a wide spread county. Come on Warwickshire.

Extract from the Birmingham document:
3.  Relevant background/chronology of key events:   

3.1  On 14 June and 5 July Birmingham City Council streamed video footage of live council meetings over the internet. 

The stream was produced and embedded on the council’s online press office, www.birminghamnewsroom.com, along with a live comment/twitter feed. The stream was also made available to the media for use on their websites.

Keep reading for an embedded presentation slideshow..


By providing this feed from existing audio/visual equipment in the council chamber, the need and cost for additional cameras was avoided. This approach is successfully used in The Palace of Westminster, and also avoids the disruption of free-standing cameras. 

3.2  Despite very little pre-publicity for the first live streaming event on 14 June, there was an   online audience throughout the meeting, with up to 20 viewers at any one time. There was a  little more promotion, via twitter, ahead of the second live streaming event on 5 July. Again the  number of viewers, at any one time, were in the mid-teens and up to 20.   

The overall viewing figures for the entire meeting, however, were in the hundreds and doubled  from the first to the second live streaming event. Plus, there is a notable and increased  audience for those wanting to watch the archived footage after the event. 

Overall viewing figures for 14 June 2011: 
•  Live: 312  
•  Archived: 478  

Overall viewing figures for 5 July 2011: 
•  Live:  669 
•  Archived: 823  

As the technology has now worked successfully, forthcoming broadcasts can be publicised with 
a degree of confidence. This should see the audience figures grow over time.

3.3 Pros 

The technology is up to the task and the streaming remained online throughout the meeting. 
There is clearly an audience for the broadcasts, so this opens up the democratic process.  
The response to the streaming from both members/officers and the public – both internally and 
via online comments/tweets – has been positive. 

Cons 

The sound quality, while always audible, is not perfect. This is partly to do with the technology 
used and partly down to members not always speaking directly into their microphones. 

One of the consequences of using a free service with www.ustream.tv, as pointed out in the  
May report to CBM, is that the coverage is punctuated every half an hour with adverts, the  
content of which there is not any control over. Due to the fact that the cost of an ad-free  
service is dependent upon the number of viewers - i.e. the cost increases as the number  
of viewers does - there was always a need to get a feel for our viewing figures first. On the  
current figures, cost estimates for an ad-free service are in the region of  £70 each month, but  
we have already seen an increase in viewers from the first to the second event, so there is an 
expectation that this will continue to increase, and in turn so will the cost.    

The ad-free service is the preferred option because it avoids the danger of inappropriate ads 
being juxtaposed with serious political debate. In addition, the cost for carrying city council ads 
could be explored. 

3.4 The future 

Efforts will be made to improve the sound quality.  

Public-i - specialists in the field - could provide a more integrated and polished solution offering 
for example: an automatic and unstaffed set-up; editing of the streaming into chunks to mirror 
agenda items; and being able to view easily the streaming alongside any comment/twitter feed. 
However, this service could cost in the region of £15k. Public-i has agreed to give a short 
presentation to the committee at this meeting on what it could provide. Details of the Public-i 
  
Moving forward, clarity needs to be sought in terms of responsibility and resourcing for this 
project. Currently, the press office is managing the function/service alongside its media 
relations activity.     

Members have already expressed interest to the press office in expanding the live streaming to 
planning and scrutiny committees, for example. Committees could move to the council chamber 
for a no-cost solution, or we could explore the costs of a mobile sound system e.g. a daisy 
chain of microphones, to be set up in any meeting for live audio to be broadcast online.  

It has become clear that a number of officers/members have been still unable to view the 
footage, either live or archived, due to restrictions on the capability of council computers and/or 
internet access. The consequence of this has been that a number of individuals struggled to 
follow-up comments made during the course of full council. It is therefore, proposed that this is 
further reviewed with Service Birmingham. 

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