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Recording the City on the Bayou

A case study of the City of Houston

SnapStream’s Enterprise TV appliance helped the City of Houston to modernize an outdated TV capture system and streamline their media awareness practices.

The Situation

Houston is extremely large and populous, which means that staying aware of the area’s many different sub communities presents challenges to city government. The City Public Information Office is partly responsible for keeping the local government, including the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, aware of events in their community. A primary tool contributing to the City’s awareness of local events is local television news, and PIO is responsible for monitoring local news and bringing important events to the attention of the city government.

Previously, the Public Information Office relied on a bank of three TV/VCR combination sets, each dedicated to a particular channel. In total, through a manual process, they had the ability to record four TV news channels. And because the recordings were made manually, some news programs that came on outside of business hours could not be captured. This arrangement was cumbersome and inconvenient, and it took up a great deal of space, both for the recording bank and for tape storage (See Figures 1a and 1b). The PIO was only able to store about three months of taped news at a time, and had no means of editing recorded broadcasts or distributing them among staff members.

The Solution

The City of Houston found their solution in a 10-tuner SnapStream Enterprise TV appliance. By recording digitally and automatically, SnapStream’s Enterprise technology eliminated the need for VCRs and for tape. This turnkey DVR appliance combines recording and storage in a single box that integrates with the City’s existing network (See Figure 2). With the Enterprise Link Client, the Public Information Office can now view recorded news broadcasts, edit them, and share them with other users, all directly from a networked desktop PC (See Figure 3). They can easily schedule recordings, not only from the four channels they monitored in the past, but also six additional channels simultaneously. This technology has made it dramatically more efficient for the PIO to use recorded news to monitor a variety of issues, such as:

City-related reports: The PIO prepares a synopsis of news reports that relate directly to city government, which the Mayor and his staff use to improve awareness and responsiveness of city government.

Regional issues: City government can use information about issues that relate to other levels of government that operate within the city, such as METRO or the Texas Department of Transportation, to coordinate the efforts of the city with those other agencies.

Internal awareness: The Mayor and executive staff can view recordings of closed-circuit broadcasts of City Council meetings, improving communication between the Mayor’s Office and the City Council.

The bulk and clutter of the VCR bank and tape library are a thing of the past. It is no longer necessary to have recording media dedicated to a particular channel. SnapStream’s Enterprise TV appliance provides fault-tolerant storage for eight months’ worth of recorded material, more than doubling the amount of available storage while eliminating physical storage. For the City of Houston, the result has been greatly improved awareness of city issues, coupled with more effective and efficient responses to the needs of its citizens.

City of Houston Snapstream Configuration

A standard Time Warner cable feed, modulated with one closed-circuit channel, connects to the Enterprise appliance. The Snapstream Enterprise appliance resides in the server room and is administered by the City Hall in-house IT staff. The appliance is connected to the LAN, and any networked computer with Link software is able to stream live TV and stream or download previously recorded TV content. Users can save segments, which can then be edited locally.

About Houston

Houston is one of the largest cities in the United States; with a population of more than 2 million spread over 600 square miles. It is a major center of U.S. energy production as well as biomedical and aerospace research, and with one of the youngest and most diverse populations in the country, Houston is a lynchpin of the Gulf Coast, both culturally and economically. The task of managing this massive and vital community falls to the City Council and the Houston Mayor’s Office, currently occupied by Bill White.


Figure 1a: Stacks of VHS tapes are dispersed throughout the PIO’s office.

Figures 1b: Manual recordings were done with VCRs each day

Figure 2: SnapStream Enterprise appliance installed in a hub closet at the City of Houston.

Figure 3: Snapstream user training at the City of Houston