Councillors have warmly endorsed the webcasting of their meetings, with one councillor keen to explore advertising to help fund the system if Welsh Government funding does not materialise.
Wrexham Council’s Head of Democratic Services this afternoon presented a report to bring Councillors up to date on the webcasting progress over the last year, which has included a pilot of five Scrutiny Committee meetings.
As Wrexham.com reported earlier this week, the number of people tuning into watch council meetings has increased since its launch in 2014 – with thousands watching Executive Board, Planning and Full Council meetings via webcast last year.
Cllr David Griffiths kicked off the meeting by saying: “I was skeptical when it first came in, but my worries are out of the window, it one of the best things we have done as a council to show how the council works. It is, we are, an open council. It is a pity there is not enough money to extend it.
“It is excellent, and looking at the numbers, people are talking and getting used to it.”
Cllr Carole O’Toole, who was chairing the meeting, agreed with the comments made, as did the rest of the committee.
Questions were raised by Cllr Brian Cameron on what provisions had been put in place to extend and increase funding, but was told by the Head of Democratic Services of Wrexham Council that the funding position of Welsh Government on the scheme is uncertain.
They added: “We started back in August 2014, initially on a trial period to work out how to do it. We were ahead of the game in Wales. We then reviewed that position and that resulted in a three year contract that started in 2016. We are bound by that contract, it comes to an end at the end of 2018.
“I would suggest the time to review is the following year. There are implications in expanding the webcasting, not just contractual, but physical in terms of utilising the one room that is used for webcasting, the council chamber, and hosting all meetings in there will have implications. It is wider than just paying for the webcasting.”
Cllr Andrew Bailey queried why some meetings had zero views, asking if it was due to technical issues.
The Council Officer explained although some were due to technical issues, other low or zero figures could be due to meetings being in Part 2, but did point out that the meetings with technical issues were still playable later that day.
Cllr Bailey also asked about who chooses which meetings are broadcast, as there is only capacity for only five (ish) Scrutiny meetings to be covered – with all Planning and Executive Boards broadcast.
The meeting was told that those who chair the various Scrutiny Committees meet and each ‘bid’ for the webcasting and between them they decide which gets the allocated time.
Cllr John Phillips asked about the overall cost of the 80 hour webcasting contract, and if there is an ability to add hours.
The Officer told the meeting: “The contract fee is £14,586 per annum and there is a facility to purchase additional hours if the need arise. If we were to broadcast all Scrutiny it could be an extra 110 hours on top”, adding that 74 hours and 30 minutes had been used in total out of 80 hours allocated.
Cllr Derek Wright asked: “Will there ever be a day where we can run this ourselves?”
The meeting was told how to be in that position equipment, staff and expertise would have to be acquired and maintained, pointing out that the current contract includes all those.
Councillors then started to delve into the viewing numbers, an interesting juxtaposition for us as minutes earlier we had been placing queries on newspaper readerships and expensive poorly read statutory notices!
Cllr Lloyd Kenyon enquired about how solid the viewer figures were, and pointed out that with 42 councillors not on the Executive Board, plus Council Officers and various replays of clips the viewers ‘could not be a huge quantity of people, and probably always the same people’.
Later in the meeting Cllr Barbara Roxburgh and other councillors debated the correlation of number of views against the type of content broadcast, with more interesting agenda items perhaps getting more views than the lesser ones.
The debate at that point revolved around the limited number of hours available to broadcast, but getting best value for money for them, and assuming that viewers was the valid metric to use. Much like us here at Wrexham.com writing a niche meeting report where we were the only ones covering it, and you are likely to be around the 1000-2000 people reading, is it value for time and effort?
The meeting was told by the Council Officer that there was no way to measure who was viewing the webcasts, just the totals of people watching, so there was no break down if the person was a fellow councillor or journalist for example.
They added a ‘note of caution’ that if it was decided a specific planning meeting was not terribly interesting and therefore not worthy of webcasting as it will not attract the viewers ‘people could think the local authority had something to hide’ and therefore things could look less transparent. With perhaps a note that could work for media as a whole they added: “There should be a note of caution on anticipating what viewing figures will be, it is up to the public to decide.”
Got click bait, search bait, various other content baits… Councillors now considering webcast viewing no’s , Council Agenda-Bait to come?
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) March 9, 2017
Jazzing up the Council TV… theme tunes? All in favour of the motion? *dramatic music* …. we will find out after the break!
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) March 9, 2017
Cllr David Griffiths took our approach to things, saying: “I am not bothered who looks as long as someone does.”
He had also conducted some rough maths, stating costs were around £2 per view currently, branding it ‘brilliant’, adding: “If you could watch a football match on Sky for that it would be great. It is great value for money and value for democracy, well worth it.”
Cllr Wright indicated he would like to see better promotion of when meetings are webcast, as although in Council circles such things are known, a Mr J Bloggs in Gwersyllt may not be as aware.
With concerns that Welsh Government funding has not been firmed up to keep the webcasting going for future years, Cllr Bill Baldwin enquired if advertising could be explored to offset the costs in some manner, selflessly offering to eat a pie on the webcast if required in the manner of a recent FA Cup promotion*.
Cllr Baldwin also observed that all meetings remain open to the public, stating: “Yes webcasting is an opportunity to have a look, but people do still make a point of coming along to meetings.”
Cllr O’Toole wrapped up the debate by saying: “Webcasting has provided an opportunity for the public to engage with us in a different way, I have been very pleasantly surprised by it. I endorse the positive comments today and my hope is that the viewing numbers go up significantly.”
*He did state he would rule it out if it was to promote a certain red top tabloid betting company.