Doing More with Less

Houston, Texas

houstontxThe 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

Athens, Ohio

athensohFor 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

Austin, Texas

austintxThe 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 »

Digital Transparency Age

Timmins, Ontario, Canada

timminsonTimmins, 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 »

Small City, Big Results

Allen, Texas

allentxThis 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 »