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City to expand video-on-demand program to boards, commissions

Thursday, September 10, 2009 by John Davidson

A pilot project launching in October will put complete video footage of more than 20 public meetings on the City of Austin’s Web site each month.

 

In addition to being broadcast live on Channel 6, meetings will be available on demand, just as City Council meetings have been since January. Keith Reeves, manager of Channel 6, said that making council meetings available on demand has been popular with the public and that expanding the program was the next logical step.

 

“We always wanted to do this but we first wanted to see if it was something people would actually use,” said Reeves.

 

The work involved just to make council meetings available on demand, he added, was time-consuming for the city’s Web team. So when the city decided to expand its online offerings, it contracted with a Dallas company, Swagit, to provide video on demand service for nearly two-dozen different public meetings.

 

“We’ve got an opportunity to extend the availability of all of these dialogues to the public,” said Doug Matthews, the city’s chief communications director. “That’s our primary objective. But the other objective to make sure we’re utilizing the right resources, and in this case not only do we have an opportunity to extend that reach, but we can do it with a company that specializes in this.”

 

Swagit provides video on demand services for municipalities nationwide, and its Texas clients include Irving, Plano and Houston. When Austin launches the new service next month, it will have more public meetings available on demand than any other city in the U.S.

 

Here’s how the service works: video footage of meetings will be uploaded to Swagit’s servers and editors in Dallas will break meetings down by agenda item, so that viewers can either watch the entire meeting or select a particular agenda item from an on-screen menu.

 

“This gets us out of the streaming video business and it leverages those resources to enhance the product,” Matthews said. “Right now we’ve got council meetings available, but because we’ve constructed this in-house, when we have a council meeting it might be several days before that meeting is available online. So this compresses the timeline so that within 24 hours people will be able to view those meetings online.”

 

However, not all public meetings will be on demand; the city is currently working with Swagit to decide what meetings—besides City Council meetings, which are already on demand—will be included in the year-long pilot program.

 

Those will likely include commissions that make development and environmental decisions, including the Planning Commission, Zoning and Platting Commission and Board of Adjustment, as well as the Environmental Board.

 

The cost of the program will be $2,000 per month, with up-front software and design costs of $8,000, according to Reeves. The city will review the pilot program next fall for possible renewal based on how much the public uses the service.

 

To view past City Council meetings on demand, visit www.cityofaustin.org/channel6.

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