Westbrook buying equipment for remote livestreaming

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WESTBROOK – When a $25,000 request was placed, and ultimately approved in this year’s municipal capital improvement, city leaders originally intended to use that funding to improve the audio and visual equipment in the council chambers in room 114 at Westbrook High School. Now, almost a year since that funding was approved, the equipment upgrade plan has changed slightly.

“My original intent was to address some of the audio and visual concerns that I hear from many residents, viewers and city councilors regarding the telecast from this room,” City Administrator Jerre Bryant said at the April 2 council meeting where councilors approved at first reading the award of a bid to purchase the equipment through B&H Photo in New York City. 

Bryant said investing in high definition equipment to produce better clarity is not possible. Cable provider Spectrum wouldn’t be able to handle the HD broadcast due to bandwidth capabilities, so cable viewers wouldn’t see any level of improved broadcast quality. Investing in room 114 also doesn’t make sense, he said because he is “not certain this is going to be our council chambers for years to come.”

Bryant said relocating the council chambers to city hall was brought up when the building was being renovated.

“What was envisioned was a two-prong approach. After we moved all the offices out, we would have the opportunity of making the second floor the council chambers and a meeting facility for the community as well,” Bryant said.

The second phase, he added, was not funded and looked at “in concept only.” In order to renovate the second floor into city and community meeting space, an elevator would have to be put in and a new main entrance constructed to allow for the second floor to be accessed when the city offices on the first floor are closed.

Bryant said the existing space in room 114, where the city has been meeting for years, works and right now is not high on his priority list of investments. That could change in the next few years as the equipment becomes more outdated.

Tina Radel, the city’s marketing and communications manager, said the cost of the improvements now was a factor in switching to the mobile approach.

“What we found was we could only do Band-Aid type fixes for this amount. It would cost in the $75,000 range to really make an upgrade,” she said.

Instead of large-scale improvements in room 114, Westbrook Community Television will use most of the money to upgrade the department’s mobile equipment so staff could broadcast from remote locations. Radel said the department’s existing mobile equipment is aging and new equipment would make it easier to do remote broadcasting.

“Video is a key part of our marketing and communication strategy, and this equipment will enable us to tell our story in a high quality and professional manner,” she wrote in a Feb. 23 memo to city councilors.

The new equipment will include a portable Canon camera, a lighting kit, hard drives for recording, a device to livestream to Youtube or Facebook, mobile microphones and other in-the-field equipment, as well as new speakers and a monitor for the cable television studio.

“We want to be able to produce our own commercials for broadcast TV. With this equipment, we can do that,” she said. “We are also looking to produce some programming for the channel, for livestreaming, for the website and we can do that with this equipment.

One idea that Radel brought up would be to create a talk show format show with business owners or other interesting members of the community that could be shot remotely at, say space in the Dana Warp Mill.

The new equipment could be used to film new business openings, community or school events either via livestream or tape delay. 

“We can livestream from anywhere that has a solid internet connection, so doing it from (Riverbank Park) would be questionable, but we could certainly record something there,” Radel said.

Bryant said there “is a tremendous amount of opportunity” with the improved mobile equipment.

Radel said she has had conversations with the Presumpscot River Land Trust about broadcasting trail hikes or the fish migration in the river. Broadcasting high school sports may be possible, but Radel said that could prove to be a scheduling and staffing issue. Councilor Ann Peoples said if it could work out, “there would be good viewership for that.” Bryant said the equipment could also be used to broadcast the history lectures the Westbrook Historical Society holds on the first Wednesday of the month at the Westbrook Community Center on Bridge Street. This month’s lecture was on the history of the Cumberland-Oxford Canal, which cut through the city as it flowed from Sebago Lake to the Fore River.

Councilor Anna Turcotte said she worried that it could be problematic to just focus on new businesses or certain businesses without it looking like the city was, in some way, favoring them. Radel said she has interviewed new business owners in the past, not as features about their businesses per say, but rather about what drew them to Westbrook.

While city meetings are aired both live and on repeat on local cable channels, how much the city relies on that approach to keep residents informed about what is happening in the city may change in the future.

Peoples said many residents still follow the happenings of town committees and boards through the local cable television channels (Channel 2 and Channel 3), but that is not possible for those individuals who don’t have cable or have a satellite. Peoples said that is why it would be advantageous to educate people on how to watch the meetings as they livestream on the internet.

“Going forward livestreaming may be the most efficient way to get connected with council meetings,” she said.

Vice President John O’Hara suggested the cable television staff be cognizant that people are looking beyond Spectrum for the television needs.

“I wonder, is Spectrum going to be our vehicle to connect with viewers in the long run?” he said.

Councilor Victor Chau was supportive of awarding to bid to B&H Photo because it allows the city to be more flexible in its cable television offerings.

“I do like us being a little more mobile so we can shoot somewhere else in the city,” he said.

Radel said she is set to make the purchase as soon as it is approved at second reading, which is expected later this month.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com

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