Doing More with Less
The City of Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States. Its rich diversity and second only to New York City in headquartering Fortune 500 companies, Houston's communication with its citizens is essential and information must be provided in a timely manner.
“The support of streaming and hosting video on the city’s network was overwhelming for the city to facilitate," said Dwight Williams, Houston TV Division Manager. "We would have had to hire additional employees to maintain the traffic, at the level we estimated, for this type of streaming video project.” The city's focus, delegated to HTV, is to provide programming to residents through the PEG channel and other television outlets. "My staff is busy producing content and broadcasting meetings, being responsible to maintain a streaming video system would affect their everyday duties."
In utilizing Swagit’s Extensible Automated Streaming Engine (EASE), the City of Houston offloaded all storage and streaming tasks to Swagit causing no internal strain on their Internet or Intranet network. Furthermore, all support issues that arise are also pushed off to representatives of Swagit, giving HTV no additional responsibilities or the need to maintain a streaming video system. Staff is able to focus on their weekly production processes and current responsibilities.
"The relationship between the City of Houston and Swagit makes business sense for both parties," said David Owusu, Swagit's Director of Streaming Media. "Their city has to be flexible in what they provide to their citizens given the diversity, tourism and economy. In choosing Swagit as their streaming vendor, Houston in turn employs a company that is flexible in providing customized video streaming solutions that are tailor made for their city, and can forever change to effectively communicate to the public."
Houston's programming can be viewed on the city's municipal channel or from any Internet connected computer. Watch Now >>>
From Satellite TV to the Internet
For several years in Athens, Ohio live broadcasts of council meetings were restricted to homeowners that only subscribed to cable television services, which only included about half of area residents. Furthermore, these broadcasts were not available to homeowners who preferred satellite TV. So government exposure and participation in community affairs were lacking on both accounts. The City of Athens came to the conclusion that with streaming video technology, the council could reach more people without access to the local cable network since Internet connectivity is available to most homes and businesses in the area. The thinking was residents would be able to view live council meetings as they happen, and then refer to the on-demand council meeting archives if they missed the original airing.
When Athens decided to bring in vendors to help them achieve the goal to increase transparency through streaming video, proposals were coming in at an estimated $48,000 for hardware and introductory costs alone. This was before any service oriented contracts were established. Scott Thompson of the Athens Government Channel said, "We have looked at streaming video software in the past through a few companies, but the upfront costs were just too high for the amount of traffic that we currently get to our city's website. We would also have to potentially hire someone to sit at the meetings to time-stamp video since the clerk doesn't want to do it. There is no way we can justify spending that much money on this project."
Enter Swagit Productions, LLC into the conversation in 2009 with the hopes of presenting a cost-effective way for the City of Athens to accomplish the integration of streaming media, and without creating additional expenses of hiring employees to operate any software. David Owusu, Director of Streaming Media for Swagit, presented Athens with Swagit EASE. This solution allowed Swagit's staff to stream and index meetings, instead of Athens having to even worry about the process at all. "Not only can we make the budget requirements that Athens City Council wants to operate under, Swagit will index every meeting that the city calls each year," said Owusu.
After installation of Swagit's EASE solution, the City of Athens Government Channel now provides citizens with a powerful online tool to help them stay connected with their local government. Before, the city provided live coverage of city meetings on television only to select number of residents. Through partnering with Swagit, Athens instantly has the ability to provide live video on the Internet, as well as inform more citizens of events, activities, and news about the city in general. Watch Now >>>
Outsourcing vs. In-house
The City of Austin is the live music capital of world and the seat of government for the State of Texas. Known as a college town with the founding of the University of Texas at Austin, recent technology growth and a good economy helped Austin become the "Best Big City for Jobs" as listed by Forbes Magazine. This unique distinction along with city leaders wanting additional ways to educate their local residents about the latest happenings in and around the city, lead the city to explore streaming video.
At first, an in-house streaming video system was implemented to achieve more long-term transparency. Austin began to post city council meetings online so residents could take advantage of city information even if that resident wasn't at the meeting. Over a period of several months the production process to post city meetings online became extremely time consuming. "It can take my staff two to four days to post one city council meeting depending upon what other responsibilities they might have that week," said Keith Reeves, Austin Channel 6 Manager. "Also, streaming content that we are producing outside of meetings is a priority for our station."
So when the city decided to expand its online video offerings and obtain faster turnaround times for their content being posted on the Internet, both live and on-demand, it contracted with Swagit Productions to provide media services for nearly two-dozen different public meetings, along with several other programs. "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 is 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."
Video footage of meetings are automatically uploaded to Swagit's servers, and meetings are broken down by agenda item, so viewers can either watch the entire meeting or select a particular agenda item from an on-screen menu. "Swagit's solution creates no additional work for city staff," said Reeves. "It offers the city a truly hands-free, fully automated system for streaming video live and on-demand."
"This gets the city out of the streaming video business and it leverages those resources to enhance the product," Matthews said. "We had council meetings available, but because we constructed it in-house, when we had a council meeting it would take several days before that meeting was available online. Utilizing Swagit compresses the timeline so that within a few hours people will be able to view the meetings online."
Austin currently streams nearly 3,100 video clips to its citizens each month. Watch Now >>>
Attract Citizens through Government and Education
With an estimated 123,000 people and being the principal city in the Provo-Orem metropolitan area, along with housing one of the largest private higher education institutions in the United States with Brigham Young University, the City of Provo, Utah produces a highly productive and well educated work force with a strong work ethic. In April of 2010, Forbes' annual "the best places for business and careers" ranked Provo, Utah number two.
Now in 2009, the city council were faced with a task of making local government and education not only more transparent to it's citizens, but also making the entire City of Provo more recognizable as a community based on strong family values with safe neighborhoods to attract more people to live in Provo. In a unanimous decision, council decided that using streaming video technology on their city website could give them the exposure they needed outside of Provo, while still maintaining a local connection with its residents. After considering multiple vendors to integrate a streaming video solution, Provo City chose Swagit Productions as their streaming video provider because of the company's ability to not only provide tools for meeting management, but Swagit's focus on helping their clients produce and broadcast community videos that relate to businesses and school districts.
Swagit immediately jumped on board with the City Council's goals to promote effective communication to residents in and out of the metropolitan area by developing an online interface that integrates government meetings, community events, organized school sports, environmental safety programs, Mayoral addresses, as well as other rich media content. "After using Swagit for just a few months time it is clear that public input and involvement has never been higher. Now that the citizens can readily see what's going on from week to week, they just want more and more visual media of their local activities," said Agustin Avalos, Provo's TV Production Coordinator.
Swagit has helped Provo City broadcast and stream over 770 community related videos in the past nine months. Watch Now >>>
Small City, Big Results
This Northern suburb of Dallas, better known for hosting the first train robbery in Texas on February 22, 1878, has come a long way from the days when Sam Bass and his associates pillaged a train. Allen’s growth over the last decade has seen its population soar from 43,554 in 2000 to an estimated 88, 347 people. The city is expected to continue its growth over the next several years with the additions of many new high-end retail stores, a minor league hockey arena, the largest urban arts center in the nation and the largest high school football stadium in the nation.
In 2004, Allen decided it needed a new plan to communicate with its growing citizen base. The increased growth of the city was putting greater demand on limited city resources to deliever more transperancy to a larger number of residents. ACTV Executive Producer Mark Kaufmann recalls, “when I began my career here at Allen, we had no additional staff resources and were broadcasting limited programming to residents on one cable provider. The city secretary and I stayed busy supplying our residents video copies and written transcripts of meetings.” It was then that the city decided to contract with Swagit Productions, LLC to improve its transperancy and enable its growing citizen base the access to the information they desired in a more efficient manner.
Utilizing Swagit’s Extensible Automated Streaming Engine (EASE), Allen was able to take advantage of broadcasting its programming to more residents while cross-linking and integrating all of its associated documents to present them in a clear, simple and easily accessible manner. The city achieved all of this without the addition of extra staff members or the need for current staff resources. As a result the City of Allen has had more time to focus on producing content and fulfilling the duties they were originally hired to do. As a direct result, staff costs are down, productions and results are up and the cost of bandwidth to serve the cities information has been offloaded to Swagit.
"We have been using Swagit for on-line video on-demand since 2004 and have been very happy not only with the integrity of the product, but also with the quality of customer service," said Kaufmann. Since contracting with Swagit, Allen has gone from having limited programming, to having a plethora of fresh and new content. Allen has been recognized with numerous awards since 2004, its hard to count, but there is no mistaking those four (3 consecutive) Lone Star Emmy® Awards that are now sitting in the ACTV offices.
The city further increased its transparency in 2009, adding its programming to the AT&T U-verse television system by utilizing their existing partnership with Swagit. "Increased accessibility of government programming is the idea behind our 'hands-free' streaming solutions," said Swagit Productions, LLC President Bryan R. Halley. "What better way to do it, than by adding another form of distribution for content using solutions already in place, and at no additional cost to the city."
“Cost-effective results while supplying our citizens the quality and features they desire is what it comes down to. We are constantly trying to find creative ways to reach more viewers and Swagit enables us to do that." Since the partnership began, the City of Allen is now broadcasting to three cable providers, has won over 100 local, state and national awards, has won four Emmys, provides its citizens with live and on-demand video programming from its broadcast channel and provides accesability and cross-linking to all meeting documents associated with any video. Watch Now >>>
Digital Transparency Age
Timmins, Ontario is an old mining city mostly known for the Porcupine Gold Rush from 1909-11. Named after Noah and Henry Timmins, the city builds on its solid, industrial foundation, and offers a variety of natural, cultural and recreational diversions.
During the cold winter months, many of Timmins' residents like to head South for warmer climates. "The city can get snowstorms that close roads and can make driving conditions unfavorable for those residents that attend regular meetings," said David Laneville, Director of IT for the City of Timmins. Consequently, the City of Timmins launched its new streaming video solution, which provides greater access to municipal information and services for more than 45,000 residents. By using Swagit's EASE solution the city is able to promote live events, as well as broadcast meetings and other content via the Internet. "Now, residents can watch live meetings from the comfort of their home or can tap into the video on-demand database and watch at their convenience from anywhere in the world," Laneville said.
Canada's policies that require any server technology and database storage to stay within Canadian borders in order to avoid privacy risks with international transfer of personal information was a major obstacle for Timmins when they looked at potential vendors. "The city looked at several vendors across North America," said Laneville. "Swagit was the best fit and had the most robust CDN that was qualified to handle our needs." Swagit's content distribution network allows Timmins to store and deliver all of its content from Swagit's Montreal Point-Of-Presence (POP). Swagit developed its own CDN, so it is not reliant on any third-party providers like Akamai or Limelight. This not only keeps costs low, but enables Swagit's international customers to be in compliance with local laws.
While many government agencies are striving to use the power of streaming video to transform its role with the public and provide better service for its citizens, Swagit Productions, LLC has been doing it for years. Since 2003, Swagit has been a leader and innovator when it comes to streaming media technology. Swagit's hands-free EASE solution & BREASE application continues with that trend. Watch Now >>>
The City of Richardson began live broadcasting of City Council meetings and work sessions as part of a wide-ranging transparency in government initiative that was included in the City Council's 2009-2011 Statement of Goals. The live broadcast is available to Time Warner Cable subscribers on channel 16 and streamed on the City's Web site, www.cor.net.
The City contracted with Swagit Productions, LLC as the video streaming service provider according to Richardson’s Chief Information Officer Steve Graves. "We have installed two wall-mounted cameras in the City Council Chamber and the work session room," Graves said. "During the meetings, Swagit personnel will operate them remotely from their facility and can zoom in and switch from camera to camera depending on who is speaking. The broadcast signal goes through a switch that sends it to Swagit and also to our cable television channel."
Graves explained that the live Web cast is routed through a City computer server and is recorded as it is being sent to Swagit.
"If for some reason the live Internet connection is lost, we have a saved copy that can be posted on our site," he said.
Testimonial from City of Richardson, TX:
As a work session or Council meeting is streaming live on the Web, Swagit employees tag each agenda item. At the conclusion of the meeting, they create an index on the City’s Web site and visitors can choose to view individual agenda items rather than watch the entire video. Council and work session meetings will be archived on the site for up to two years. The City’s cable channel 16 will replay taped broadcasts.
No Staff + No Time + No Cost = Larger Distribution with EASE
With the TiVo filled to the brim, the iPhone ringing off the hook and the kids screaming for dinner, people are busier than ever. Even with a civic issue of interest up for discussion, there may not be time to check out City Council meetings, either in person or on live television. In late 2007, Edmond, Oklahoma decided to increase transparency and provide access to Life TV for a greater amount of its citizens through an Extensible Automated Streaming Engine (EASE).
The technology, available from Texas-based Swagit Productions, LLC, allows the city to bridge the information gap between the city and its residents through live and on-demand video streaming. Edmond TV/Video Production Specialist Dwight Polson said, "this is especially good for people who use satellite television systems instead of subscribing to cable, because satellite users don't have the public access channels that broadcast the meetings." About a third of Edmond's residents are satellite TV customers.
Edmond picked Swagit because of its ability to archive the meetings quickly and go back two full years at a time, and because of technology that allows the best quality picture to come through. Polson said, "the system can tell what kind of Internet connection a person is using -- whether it's dial-up Internet service, DSL or through a cable modem -- and adjusts the picture quality accordingly." Additionally, the EASE system required no additional staff or time to maintain and operate. "Swagit was the only vendor that offered us a complete custom solution that required no staff involvement whatsoever" says Polson. "We continue to do, what we do at Life TV. Our programs and meetings appear on our website, fully indexed and cross-linked with our documents without us worrying or doing a thing."
In 2009, the City of Edmond's Government Access Channel became available on AT&T U-verse. Edmond was the first city in the state to broadcast programming on the service's community access channel. "We're excited to be able to work with the city of Edmond to bring the next generation of community access programming to our AT&T U-verse customers in this area," said Jan Moran, area manager, AT&T External Affairs. "We're proud that Edmond is the first Oklahoma community to be a part of this new service for our customers."
Edmond is able to provide the programming for AT&T U-verse customers by using the Swagit service the city already uses for its on-demand and live video streaming. "Increased transparency of government programming is the idea behind our ‘hands-free' streaming applications," said Swagit Productions, LLC President Bryan R. Halley. "What better way to do it, than by adding another form of distribution for content using solutions already in place, and without the expensive cost associated with new encoding hardware."
Utilizing Swagit's equipment saved the City of Edmond approximately $11,000. "We are able to provide our programming on U-verse because we did not have to invest dollars in additional equipment," said Marketing and Public Relations Director Claudia Deakins. "The partnership with Swagit made it feasible for us to extend our programming to our residents that are AT&T U-verse customers."
"Obviously we are thrilled to be first in the state to provide our programming on U-verse. We are also pleased because it is one more component in an ongoing effort to maximize communication and interaction with our citizen customers," Deakins said. Watch Now >>>
Above and Beyond Transparency
Governments can better serve the public, and do it more economically, when they take maximum advantage of providing their citizens with a streaming media solution that’s 100% ‘Hands-Free’. Within the last 10 years, cities and counties are displaying their council meetings online to help improve transparency between the public and government. In an industry where technology is forever changing at rapid speeds, it makes sense to outsource your streaming media project to Swagit Productions. Let our Managed Services Division handle the long laborious task that is associated with indexing and staying ahead of the current trends that relate to video streaming.
Since 2008, Clay County, Florida has offered several meeting bodies online for their citizens, including their board of commissioners meetings. Several years ago, Clay advertised an RFP for a hosted streaming media solution. Ultimately, Swagit was the chosen vendor for providing these types of services. "Swagit’s solution required no county staff and was the most cost effective solution offered to the county," said Dawn Schull, ICT Division for the County.
"There are all kinds of cost efficiencies that are gained from implementing the right kind of solution in an enterprise way," Schull said. "The Swagit EASE solution required no training costs for the county and we didn't need to hire any additional staff members or take on any additional responsibilities. This enabled the county to save money in other areas, while providing our citizens more transparency."
Interoperability, flexibility and reliability are key ingredients in a solution that streamlines and strengthens communications between the government and its citizens. It's a solution Swagit can provide in a cost-effective manner and make city/county business more accessible to its citizens as demonstrated with Clay County. Watch Now >>>