In YouTube Era, What Should OC Pay for Its Meeting Videos?

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For many Orange County residents, web and TV broadcasts of the Orange County Board of Supervisors meetings provide a front-row seat to big policy debates on issues like health care, public safety and major construction projects.

But the videos come with a relatively hefty price tag. The supervisors are set today to approve a three-year, $750,000 contract with Network Television Time, also known as GovTV, to provide the service. The $250,000 annual cost is more than 10 times what several local cities pay their streaming contractors.

For example, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Garden Grove and Orange all pay less than $25,000 annually to the vendors who provide videos of their meetings. Santa Ana pays $52,000.

In an interview yesterday, GovTV’s president, Bruce Arditte, defended the cost by pointing out that his firm provides substantially more services than the companies that video meetings for the above-mentioned cities, including staff to operate the broadcasts.

“The services we provide are fully managed services for the county, and most governments don’t have closed captioning or transcripts, don’t provide distribution to lots of different outlets,” said Arditte. “So the county’s service is very different in many, many ways from the service that cities get.”

However, there are questions as to whether those services should cost $250,000 per year, especially in the era of YouTube.

For free, YouTube will broadcast video in high definition and make it available for viewing almost immediately after it ends. A hardware switcher can be purchased for about $8,500 and a streaming-capable computer for about $2,000.

Other services, like Ustream, offer packages like 60,000 viewer hours of video streaming for about $12,000 per year. The county supervisors’ videos were viewed about 44,000 times in a recent one-year period, according to GovTV.

The board video and audio, meanwhile, are currently of lower quality and are usually not available until a few hours after the meeting ends. Arditte said GovTV will be upgraded this year to a cleaner picture and sound quality but still won’t be in high definition.

Going into Tuesday’s vote, supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson said he’s not seeing problems with the price or service offered by GovTV.

“I don’t have any issue with the contract,” Nelson said, also suggesting that the video and audio quality is just fine for its purpose.

“It’s not produced for an entertainment value, it’s to preserve a record,” said Nelson.

As for streaming and storing high definition videos on YouTube for free, Nelson cited procurement, insurance and labor requirements as stumbling blocks.

“If somebody’s got a better idea, I’d certainly take a look at it,” he added.

Ventura County-based GovTV has held the county video contract since the supervisors meetings were first broadcast in 2000.

In his earlier term on the board, Supervisor Todd Spitzer “spearheaded a three-year fight to have meetings televised,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Leading the opposition was then Supervisor Jim Silva, who cast the lone dissenting vote against broadcasting the county meetings, citing the cost to taxpayers.

GovTV charges the county $105,000 per year for baseline equipment usage, plus about $6,100 in additional equipment and personnel costs per meeting, according to the contract extension.

The charges include a $599-per-month “duplication equipment usage fee,” plus labor, for making DVDs and video files for cable TV.

Another $2,800-per-year “small equipment fee” is charged for a “PowerPoint to TV Converter.”

A web search for such equipment found prices that ranged to no more than $375.

(Click here to read GovTV’s proposed contract extension.)

Arditte said he saves the county from having to repair equipment, a cost he estimated at between $15,000 to $25,000 per year for an average city.

“They don’t have the exposure to the risk of equipment ownership,” said Arditte.

He added that there are cities “all over” Orange County that spend $300,000 to $400,000 or more per year on broadcasts, though he couldn’t recall which cities those are.

“Once you add in government staff, you will go north pricewise of what the county pays,” said Arditte, adding that he’s providing a top-notch service at a fair value.

“They want quality but they want it at a good price,” he said. “And I believe that we deliver that.”

Please contact Nick Gerda directly at ngerda@gmail.com  and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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