Updated: Jul 18, 2019
The discussion on whether or not to livestream board meetings took approximately 22 minutes before the vote was called at the May 28, 2019 board meeting.
It starts with this opening by President Blake:
“Well, we've done a preliminary, um we haven't been able to complete the feasibility study, because he [Jim Odom, Director of Palomar TV Center] had some other priorities in terms of things we need to do….......So anyway, I'm asked Jim, to pull together some preliminary information for us to let us know kind of what the cost implications would be for the District.”
Recall that trustees Evilsizer and Hensch called for a feasibility study and report at the February 12 meeting. Joi Blake agreed to this.
Four and a half months later, there is no feasibility study or report because of “other priorities”. Instead, an at-will administrator (Jim Odom) is called to the podium to give his back-of-the-napkin estimates.
During his report, Jim Odom made the following points (in chronological order).
"Dr. Blake and I spoke a few weeks ago, and she asked me to give (livestreaming) a little more thought."
The current Board room (SSC -1) is not built to accomodate quality livestreaming.
Meetings have been livestreamed in SSC-1 before, but it's "always been one-camera, one-speaker type of events". One camera in the back of SSC-1 will not produce a video that will entice viewership.
To produce quality livestreaming, the room would need to be retrofitted to have four cameras (one in each corner of the room), better lighting to illuminate the dais, new or modified audio equipment, and new video/audio switchers to control which camera and microphone is active during the recording.
Jim Odom estimates that this retrofit would cost $42,000 based on his experience with Brubeck Theater. Rounding up to account for unforseen expenses, Jim ballparks $50,000 in hardware and retrofitting.
With the four camera set-up, a video switcher operated by staff is necessary. Jim is not sure where the video switcher could be installed. "I'm not that familiar with this building, if there's a room somewhere back here that can be repurposed for that, but we'd have to figure that part out…"
In addition to the extra staff, Information Services would need to "hang around" to ensure the server has the appropriate bandwidth to livestream.
Any PowerPoint presentations would need to be uploaded several hours in advance of the meeting.
Free captioning services - such as YouTube - are unacceptable in quality.
"You can get good live captioning, but is extremely expensive. I can't give you a quote off top of my head. But you're probably for a board meeting, you're talking thousands of dollars. I'm not sure exactly. But it's very expensive, because you have more multiple people involved having to do that and happens if you watch network television, it's, it's hit or miss there even and they're paying a lot of money for that…”
Providing transcription or captioning after the fact (not real time) for either audio or video is complicated, can take weeks, and still has a 10% error rate. "...we work with a company called AST, Automatic Sync Technology ..... they do a great job, but we send them the product to be captioned and the turnaround can be - you can pay extra, it can be very quick - or it can take weeks to get it done. It just depends. And a lot of it does depend on the audio quality, whether they can use their essentially automated technique to do it, or if they have that humans actually doing that. So there's a lot of moving pieces on that as well. How do you want good, you know, good quality and good accurate captioning.... even at the best, we still probably correct 10% of what we get back from most of our programming and PCTV. Because they miss it.”
Instead of a feasibility study and actual cost analysis, the Board is presented with Jim Odom’s thoughts, which make livestreaming sound burdensome, expensive and infeasible. I present my counterarguments here:
Although a single camera in the back of the room is not gold-standard livestreaming, it is passable and has been done before under President Deegan. A camera in the back of the room is the same perspective that an audience member has in the back row.
Back-of-the-napkin estimates for equipment retrofitting is $50,000 to install four rotating cameras, new audio, new lighting, and new wiring. Because no actual pricing sheet or cost estimate was provided, these estimates cannot be verified. SSC-1 is not Brubeck Theater. Other rooms on campus have been recently retrofitted for less than half that amount.
The additional staffing costs incurred from PCTV staffing and an IS technician could be alleviated by having said staff shift their hours from 9-5 to 12-8 once or twice a month when Board meetings occur.
The additional prep time required to load powerpoints is trivial.
Jim Odom's comments about not being familiar with this building begs this question: How much time and research actually went in to this (in)feasibility "study"?
The "thousands of dollars" to caption each Board meeting (but he didn't actually get a true price quote) is false. I called AST myself and spoke to their sales representative. She said live captioning remotely is $110 an hour using a service called CART. Live captioning a 3-hour Board meeting is $330.
For audio or video that is transcribed after the fact with greater accuracy, it's a 2-day turn around time, with a guaranteed accuracy of 99.5% at $1.55 -$2.49 a minute depending on if you want a text of the transcipt or to caption published video ($280 - 450 respectively for a three hour Board meeting). I asked the AST rep if there were additional fees for humans vs. automated transcription or low quality vs. high quality audio. The AST rep also said the pricing and turn-around time was the same regardless.
Compare these quotes with other expenses the College approved. The 4th floor of the library required very difficult retrofitting to install the personal bathroom requested by President Blake as part of the presidential suite remodel. That cost for the bathroom was an estimated $300,000. Livestreaming the board meetings to make them accessible to the public is a much better use of taxpayer money than a personal bathroom.
The Board’s legal counsel – Regina Petty – is paid $675 an hour to attend Board meeings. At the July 9th meeting alone, she would have billed more than $3000 between both open and closed session. Compare this to $280-450 to transcribe a board meeting to make it accessible to the public.
The trustees were presented with inflated, misleading, poorly researched, and outright false back-of-the-napkin estimates from which to base their decision on.
If you are perplexed as to why the estimates for livestreaming would be purposefully inflated and not properly studied, the final blog post explains.