City of Austin

Tracking TV in the live music capital of the world

March 03 2009 by Rakesh

Background

First, some background. The City of Austin is the 14th largest city in the United States, the capital of Texas and home to 700,000 residents. Known for its high-tech companies (for example, Dell and Samsung), its government, and seven-time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong, Austin gets it's fair share of attention in the media.

And Austin's residents are active citizens, with a great interest in things happening in the City of Austin. Accordingly, there are six TV news organizations in Austin -- ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Univision and News 8 Austin -- all of whom individually cover things happening in Austin City Government. The City of Austin team estimates that there are probably 150 news stories about the City of Austin in any given month -- that's about 33 TV news stories a week!

Austin's Public Information Office

Wikipedia has a good description of the job of a public information officer:

"Public Information Officers (PIOs) are the communications coordinators or spokespersons of certain governmental organizations (i.e. police departments, army, city, county, state governments). They differ from public relations departments of private organizations in that many of them typically do not engage in marketing, but solely in providing information to the public and the media..."

So Austin's Public Information Offices are responsible for being spokespeople for the City and for coordinating all other communications activities with the media and citizens.

The City of Austin has one central public information group, called the "Corporate PIO", and then there are another 25 to 30 department PIOs for each of Austin's various city departments, including:

  • Austin Police Department
  • Austin Fire Department
  • Austin Water
  • Austin Energy
  • Austin Convention Center
  • Economic Growth and Redevelopment
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Public Works

Austin's "Corporate PIO" handles anything relating to the central city management and larger issues that span multiple departments. With 6 local TV news organizations and television being approximately 60% of all media mentions the city receives, monitoring TV has always been important to them.

How the City of Austin USED to monitor television

Before SnapStream, the City of Austin's Corporate PIO and 25-30 department PIOs monitored television in a fragmented fashion -- everyone was doing their own thing.

VCRs and VHS tapes: The "Corporate PIO" group and 2 other departments PIOs had large banks of VCRs that they used to record television onto VHS cassette tapes. Naturally, VCRs were a labor intensive solution.

DIY PC TV Recorders: Two other department PIOs had built their own DIY PC TV recording devices. These devices requires constant upkeep and maintenance and were, ultimately, unreliable.

What the rest did: All the other PIO department would call the "Corporate PIO" group asking to be sent physical VHS tape copies of media mentions they had received. This put a lot of burden on the "Corporate PIO" group to take requests, dub tapes and then physically ship VHS tapes around the city.

So the way the City of Austin used to do media monitoring was fragmented (everyone was doing their own thing), expensive (lots of labor went into making recordings and then making cuts of those recordings), and time-consuming.

How the City of Austin monitors television TODAY (yes, with SnapStream!)

Sometime in 2007, Keith Reeves at the City of Austin saw a demonstration of SnapStream at a TATOA event and after a few more meetings, the City of Austin bought a 10-tuner SnapStream Server in 2008.

The City of Austin's SnapStream Server is hosted inside of a data center in Austin City Hall and it's used by all the department PIOs across the city. The ability to schedule new recordings is limited to a few administrators. Here's a breakdown of how the City of Austin uses the 10-tuners on their SnapStream Server:Tuners 1 through 6: These are used to record every news broadcast from Austin's 6 news channels -- FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, Univision and News 8 Austin.Tuner 7: One tuner is dedicated to recording the City of Austin's municipal channel -- this includes recordings of all City Council meetings and many of the City's other public meetings.Tuners 8, 9 and 10: The last three tuners are dedicated to record one-off newscasts (for example, if there is a news segment on CNN that the City of Austin knows they'll be covered on) and to record TV shows requested for educational purposes. For example, there was a documentary airing on TV about a particular gang that was moving into Texas and the City of Austin's Gang Task Force was able to request that video and use it for educational and training purposes. Finally, these last few tuners allow for very limited live TV viewing by a handful of users.Single solution with self-service for departments: Now, SnapStream's client software is installed on 50 desktops throughout the city. When a particular department wants a TV clip, rather than calling Austin's "Corporate PIO", they just run the client software, search for what they are looking for and create their own clip.

Keith Reeves, Manager at Austin 6 and the architect for SnapStream at the City of Austin says, "SnapStream has allowed us to cut down on our DVD dubs for City Council meetings and various department PIOs. Before, we'd get consistent requests for burning stuff for each of the 25-30 departments around the City of Austin! Now we just tell them, talk to the rep in your office and they can make you a clip of just that segment. You don't have to wait on us, just go do it yourself."

And as other city government employees have seen SnapStream, additional users have wanted access to the City of Austin is in the process of adding additional clients to their SnapStream setup.

Getting more done with less: Reyne Telles, the Media Relation Manager at "Corporate PIO" says that as the City of Austin has been on a hiring freeze and his team has been short-staffed, SnapStream has enabled his group to do more with less. And Reyne is able to respond and react more to the media.

"If I get a call from a reporter at ABC asking about something that was said on another network in Austin, I can immediately pull it up in SnapStream, see what was said 10 minutes ago and get back to the reporter very quickly with a response," said Reyne.


The City of Miami Police Department

Fostering Goodwill at the Miami Police Department

Thanks to SnapStream’s efficient TV search technology, the Public Information Office (PIO) at the Miami Police Department now spends a mere fraction of its day monitoring television, as opposed to half of it. With this newfound free time, Miami PD has been able to re-allocate its staff and resources towards meaningful community programs, like Teddy Bear Patrol. Just thinking about it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy.

The Challenge

When Napier Velazquez came on board as public relations specialist for the Miami Police Department in 2006, he expected to see cutting-edge technology in the Public Information Office. But what did he see? Four TiVos powering the department’s entire TV monitoring operation.

Prior to TiVo, VCRs ruled the process. The PIO recorded 20 hours of news per day across eight different local and national channels. Since VHS tapes were switched out three times a day, they stockpiled quickly and had to be stored off-site.

“You physically had to drive out to get something from the archive,” Velazquez said. “It was very inconvenient and difficult to manage.”

“Sitting there with a remote control in your hand in front of the little TVs was a nightmare,” Velazquez said.

Even once TiVo was introduced, the public information officers still had to conduct manual, minute-by-minute review of the footage, spending greater than four hours every day searching and archiving their media appearances and department mentions.

“Sitting there with a remote control in your hand in front of the little TVs was a nightmare,” Velazquez said.

Plus, it proved difficult to extract the desired content (i.e. make a clip) from TiVo, which could only retain a few days’ worth of news video anyway. The PIOs would have to routinely purge content onto DVDs to make room for incoming broadcasts, which only led to more pain points with TV archival and retrieval.

“We had to go chronologically to find the CD,” Velazquez said. “We had drawers of cassettes and tapes.”

The Solution

Miami PD wanted something that was the opposite of labor-intensive and tedious. With its turnkey nature and unparalleled TV search technology, SnapStream fit the bill. In March 2010, the PIO deployed a 10-channel SnapStream SD to manage all of its simultaneous recording jobs. They made the capital expenditure for technology improvement with JAG (Justice Assistance Grant) funding.

“It was incredibly user-friendly without opening a book or any instructions,” Velazquez said. “People are often intimidated by new software and this wasn’t the case.”

Now, the department can save important footage longer with the capacity to archive up to 3,000 hours of TV content on SnapStream’s RAID-5 storage, built for high data reliability and peak performance.

All of Miami PD’s public information officers can log into SnapStream from the Web interface.

Information that was once locked away inside tapes and CDs has now become digitally accessible and searchable. The ability to instantly pull up mentions of keywords like “Miami Police” and the names of the individual PIOs has been paramount to the department’s operational efficiency.

“A couple of words in the search engine and the results just pop up,” Velazquez said. “I can go directly to it. So when detectives say, I need this clip in 30 minutes for a meeting, it’s no problem.”

The Results

With more time on their hands and a solid grip on real-time news, Miami PD’s three sworn public information officers have enjoyed the bandwidth to perform their media-related duties, and then some.

The TV monitoring process, which previously took over four hours out of each officer’s day, now takes only a matter of minutes with SnapStream.

“The extra time allows for projects we couldn’t do before… like Teddy Bear Patrol,” Velazquez said.

“The extra time allows for projects we couldn’t do before, like putting out positive stories to the media, running public service campaigns and growing community projects,” Velazquez said.

As an example, Velazquez cites the Teddy Bear Patrol, a program which collects teddy bears and stuffed animals for officers to keep in their squad cars and hand out to children involved in domestic violence. Due to the increased involvement of the PIOs, awareness of the program has spread dramatically, generating warm reception and goodwill in the Miami community.

SnapStream has also helped slim the department’s budget, nixing DVD and CD costs by way of flash drives and e-mails.

What once was a dreaded chore for many of Miami PD’s public information officers, is no more.

“We love it,” Velazquez said. “I don’t know how other agencies currently do their recordings, but if they have the funding, they should absolutely use SnapStream.”

About the Miami Police Department

Formed in 1896, the Miami Police Department employs over 1,100 sworn officers and 300 civilians, providing law enforcement and criminal justice functions to the city of Miami. Miami is an internationally recognized tourist destination and business hub with an estimated daytime population of one million people. Reporting directly to the Chief of Police, the Public Information Office serves as the liaison between the Department and the members of the local, national and international media.

About SnapStream

Based out of Houston, SnapStream has been making TV recording and monitoring products for over a decade. Organizations at all levels of government such as The US Senate, State Assembly of New York, the City of Austin the Houston PD and several hundred more use SnapStream to keep track of TV mentions.

Learn more about SnapStream at www.snapstream.com/government-pio


Harris County Sheriff's Office

Serving the Sheriff

With SnapStream’s DVR technology, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office is able to more efficiently:

  • Pull news media broadcasts for investigative work
  • Eliminate the cost and hassle of an outside media monitoring agency
  • Monitor and manage how public information is broadcasted

The Challenge

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Public Information Office previously contracted with an outside media monitoring agency to keep track of relevant news. If the HCSO needed to review a TV news story, even just a segment, a copy of the clip had to be purchased individually from the agency on a VHS cassette tape. These clips could be prohibitively expensive, and accordingly, the purposes for which the HCSO could justify ordering them were somewhat limited.

For example, during the investigation of a police-involved shooting, an apparent witness appeared on a number of local news programs with a constantly changing account. In order to determine whether the person had actually witnessed the event, or was repeating information from earlier news broadcasts, the HCSO needed to order segments from 33 different news programs. Their total bill for these clips was over $2,000. Along with other factors, the size of the bill for this service prompted HCSO to seek another solution.

The Solution

The HCSO’s Public Information Office wanted to reduce their reliance on TV clip services by finding a way to record and monitor television in-house. Until recently, most government offices addressed their needs for media monitoring with banks of VCRs and reusable VHS cassette tapes. However, the fast-moving nature of law enforcement required the HCSO to be able to capture TV on the fly and potentially store recordings for months.

Now, the HCSO uses a 10-tuner Snapstream Enterprise TV appliance to monitor Houston-area and national television news programs in-house. Regular news programs are set to be automatically recorded and saved on SnapStream’s turnkey DVR appliance. Over the HCSO’s LAN, staff members review the broadcasts and log any segments that mention the department, all from the convenience of their desktop PCs. These segments can be edited locally and then stored for future use. Officers and administrators can view recorded clips on networked PCs or on wall-mounted LCD displays in the PIO or the department’s conference room.

The Results

Through dramatically reduced cost and increased speed and convenience, SnapStream’s DVR technology not only streamlines existing uses of TV news clips, it also opens up possible uses that were previously prohibited by cost or time constraints. These uses include:

  • Statement VerificationAs in the example above, the HCSO can track statements made to the media by people involved in ongoing investigations.
  • Public Information ManagementIn media-sensitive bureaus such as Internal Affairs and Homicide, DVR technology can help officers manage and monitor information that is released to the public.
  • TrainingRecordings of TV news are useful in training officers in issues such as identity theft that receive heavy media coverage.
  • BriefingsA computer running the TV recording software in the HCSO conference room makes it easy for command staff to be briefed on TV news coverage of crime, emergencies or the HCSO itself.

The HCSO’s Snapstream Enterprise TV appliance provides more than three months’ worth of fault-tolerant storage, making it possible for the PIO to achieve near-total awareness of media coverage of the Sheriff’s Office. Furthermore, the appliance enables users to capture live television on demand, enabling the PIO to capture law enforcement events as they unfold in the media. These capabilities have become an important asset to the PIO’s vital responsibility of managing the HCSO’s relationship with the public whom they have sworn to serve and protect.

HCSO SnapStream Configuration

A DirecTV satellite signal is demodulated upstairs and distributed throughout the Sheriff’s Office via coaxial cable. The Snapstream Enterprise appliance resides in the server room and is administered by the HCSO in-house IT department. SnapStream 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 or burned to DVD locally.

About the Harris County Sheriff’s Office

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement and criminal justice functions to the city of Houston and unincorporated Harris County. These functions range from detective and patrol services to court bailiffs and criminal detention, employing more than 2,500 sworn officers. The HCSO also operates important education and training programs that contribute to crime awareness, drug abuse prevention and public safety. The HCSO is responsible for the third-largest county in the United States, and every day, nearly four million people depend on county officers to protect their lives and livelihoods.

About SnapStream

Based out of Houston, SnapStream has been making TV recording and monitoring products for over a decade. Organizations at all levels of government such as The US Senate, State Assembly of New York, the City of Austin the Houston PD and several hundred more use SnapStream to keep track of TV mentions.

Learn more about SnapStream at www.snapstream.com/government-pio