How To Stream City Council Meetings To The Internet

by Paul M Gardner

It’s not as hard as you may think, and no where near as difficult as the city wants you to believe.

So about 6 weeks ago I was struck by the fact that I could watch NBA games on the internet from a foreign cable channel being streamed out of someone’s living room in Eastern Europe but we couldn’t do the same for City Council meetings happening a few blocks away. I could watch live Japanese 3rd Division soccer at 4am everyday until my eyes fell out but for some reason there wasn’t a single minute of recent city council footage available on the internet.

But this didn’t make much sense, because I knew that local government meetings were aired live on channel 25 every day. So they must have cameras, and I’m assuming the people operating them aren’t volunteers. They must have sound engineers, producers, interns, some kind of production company, everything you would need to develop a proper broadcast like what we see on 25. Taking that feed and putting it on the internet can’t possibly be very difficult, especially compared to all the other responsibilities of operating a tv station.

And it wasn’t. The next day I emailed Evan and Dennis to pitch an idea; we could start streaming these meetings ourselves if the city wasn’t prepared to. We talked about it a few weeks and eventually decided to have it ready for the August 7th Taxation & Finance Committee meeting regarding Harbor Point. But here was the problem. The city might spend a bunch of money producing and maintaining channel 25 so people can watch at home, but no one, and I mean no one, no one I knew had cable in their home. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they watch loads of tv, but not through a cable box.

So step one was getting cable. Done, no problem. Everything after that was easy. To connect your cable box to your computer you’ll need either one of these


or one of these


We use the latter, because I already had one. Now that you have the feed coming to your computer you’re basically done. The next step is to find a site to stream your feed. We chose Livestream because they seemed like the most professional and I liked the software that comes with it. You don’t need to buy a subscription with any of these sites, you just have to make an account. We chose to buy the subscription because we liked what it allowed us to do, mainly stream without a viewer limit, not making people register to watch, and most importantly it let us embed the stream to City That Breeds directly.

If you’re streaming through a usb slot or a driver the software will recognize that as a camera and allow you to stream the feed exactly as it comes. You also have the option to switch to your own desktop display and stream whatever you’re watching, like a youtube playlist. If you already have cable, and you have an adapter, you can start streaming meetings on your own in about 10 minutes. I have no formal computer training, have never streamed anything online in my entire life before this, and the entire project took about 8 hours start to finish.

But we’ve got to ask, why did we have to do it ourselves? Where was the city during all this? Great question. Here are a few tweets that might give you an idea of what we were dealing with.

Here’s a conversation about the online availability of Council meetings which attracts the attention of the City Council President and totally not corrupt local hero Jack Young, as well as Chris Tonjes, Chief Information Officer for the City of Baltimore and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology. Definitely 2 people who could make this project happen. Mr. Tonjes even offers up some breaking news, the city will begin streaming Council hearings and BOE meetings. Great news!

A week later, even better news! We’re only 90 days away from watching online! Just a small delay while they bring the right people on board. No problem! Thanks Chris!

Over 90 days later, co-host of the wildly popular City That Breeds podcast Dennis The Cynic asks about the status of the project, and we finally get a start date, February 28th. Engineers are tinkering, pieces are being ordered, but whatever, it’s coming. Be patient.

February 28th comes and goes. Miss Marilynn asks again. Chris Tonjes, who makes $150,000 a year, says he’s still waiting for equipment. (I should mention that at one point we were also waiting for a part but we paid the extra $7 and it was here in 36 hours.) We blew past the 90 days, we flew past the February 28th deadline, but we can see the finish line, we’re just waiting for a part.

Fast forward another month and we’re still waiting for a fucking part.

Fast forward another 2 months, and we are still, inexplicably, waiting for a part. This was actually the moment CTBTV was born. You can actually see the light go off over my head here, so shout out to Bosco for the inspiration.

Another month passes, we’re up and running, and they, these well-paid loyal servants of the public, are presumably still waiting for a part to be delivered from whatever inaccessible secret island they ordered it from.

So enjoy CTBTV everyone. It’s our gift to you, and we’re going to do some really cool shit with it in the coming months (BUY MOBTOWN MEAT SNACKS!!!). But please be aware that at the end of all this, you’re stuck with one of two possibilities; either multiple city officials were completely disingenuous to constituents and had no intention of ever streaming city meetings at any point in the near or distant future, transparency be damned, or they weren’t lying, and they’re just incompetent.

(I don’t want to ruin the mystery, but it’s the first one.)
Paul Gardner

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