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City ‘flips’ for inexpensive video

A Flip video camera.City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told aldermen Monday he’s trying to move Evanston into the Internet video age as cheaply as possible, given the city’s current budget crunch.

That includes buying three $199 Flip HD video cameras to record events around town and getting a free city channel on YouTube to host the streaming videos.

"I like the no-cost aspect of this," Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said, "Keep up the good work."

At the City Council’s Rules Committee meeting, Bobkiewicz had Pat Keegan, interim manager of the city’s Business Performance & Technology division, show off one of the tiny hand-held cameras. He also played the first city-produced video created with one of the cameras that the city has posted online — shots of emergency workers getting their H1Ni flu shots.

The city also posted its first City Council meeting video online late last month.

But that is a fairly complicated process, Keegan said.

The live video of the meeting is broadcast on cable television by the Evanston Community Media Center. At the end of the meeting, the media center worker hands a DVD recording of the session to a city staffer who then has to spend as much as six hours at a computer waiting for the machine to finish converting the recording to a format suitable for streaming online.

Then, once the new file is uploaded to YouTube, it’s available for anybody to watch.

However, the video file lacks any automatic way to jump to a particular topic of interest — not the best user experience when a meeting can last two hours or more.

There’s no free solution for that problem yet, Bobkiewicz said.

He said a system like the one used by Naperville, provided by a company called Granicus, would solve that problem — providing a way for viewers to quickly view the discussion about any agenda item that interested them. It would let a city employee add time cues to the recording as the meeting was unfolding.

But that approach, Bobkiewicz said, would cost about $25,000 to install and $11,500 a year in ongoing costs — a price tag he believes is too high to pay at this time.

As a less-expensive interim solution, Bobkiewicz suggests the city should spend about $4,500 in up front costs and $366 in monthly ongoing costs to be able to stream the city’s government access cable channel online.

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