Theresa Acerro is a regular at Chula Vista City Council meetings. The Southwest Chula Vista Civic Association member and longtime resident usually attends the meetings to speak during public comment.
On the rare occasion when her schedule doesn’t allow her to make it to the Tuesday afternoon meetings, she tries to catch the proceedings online.
But she isn’t the only one logging on.
As it turns out, Acerro is one of 4,404 unique visitors who have watched council meetings online in the past fiscal year, according to Granicus’ analytics report. Granicus is the company the city uses to broadcast the council meetings online.
Of those, 93 percent of unique visitors viewed public meetings on a desktop while seven percent watched on a mobile device.
Anne Steinberger, marketing and communications manager for the city of Chula Vista, said the analytics tell her that people are in fact turning to the online platform.
“People are interested in it,” she said.
Steinberger said the online audience varies depending on agenda items.
For example, a more controversial agenda item will most likely draw more unique visitors than a non-controversial item.
Two of the most watched council meetings in the past six months were the May 28 meeting featuring the city manager’s proposed budget and an Aug. 13 meeting requesting the revival of the Tourism Marketing District.
In all, the budget meeting streamed live to 1,114 total views while the meeting about the Tourism and Marketing District received 223 views in the archive, analytics show.
The archive of the budget meeting drew 118 total views.
In the same six-month period, an archived council meeting dating back to July 2006 got 13 total views.
Chula Vista first started webcasting council meetings in 2006.
The city of Chula Vista also uses television to broadcast its council meetings to Cox Cable and AT&T U-Verse subscribers living within city limits.
The meetings are televised live on the public access channel.
Although it is relatively easy to track if people are watching council meetings online, gauging television ratings for council meetings is hard to do, said Marc Jaffe, one of the founders of San Diego’s government access television channel and a principal for Southern California Telecom.
“Nielsen ratings are irrelevant, it’s not about ratings its about open government,” Jaffe said. “The financial model does not have to do with advertising, the policy making is more important.”
Cities are able to use funding from the cable franchise fee to broadcast council meetings or any public education or government material.
The franchise fee — which is five percent of the cable company’s gross revenue — is a fee that cable providers pay to local governments.
Local governments can use this franchise fee in any manner they choose, including the use of public, educational and government channels.
State law requires that upon request from a city government, cable providers must provide one channel each for public, educational and government channels.
The city of Chula Vista received $627.091 of public, education and government channel funds for fiscal year 2013, Steinberger wrote in an e-mail.
Council meetings in Chula Vista started being broadcast on television in 1987.
For fiscal year 2013, the city broadcasted and webcasted 33 meetings.
To make council meetings available online the city spent nearly $39,000.
The city contracted with Bob Hoffman Video and Photography for $16,912. That amount includes videography, overtime, supplies and equipment repairs.
Also in fiscal year 2013 Chula Vista paid Granicus $21,600 to use their software application to provide live web video streaming and archived video of council meetings.
Acerro said online streaming of the council meetings is worth every penny spent.
“It is a good investment because the more citizens are informed, the more likely they are going to be involved in the city,” she said. “This is a cheap way to do it. The city has spent much more money than that on consultants and meetings that involved few people. This is much more valuable.”
Acerro said putting council meetings on the web is one way to ensure open government and transparency.
Recently council members voted to revamp the city’s website, Steinberger said with the new website, she expects the number of people streaming meetings online to increase.
“We are definitely going to be able to upgrade how people interact with the city, so I’m hoping that more people will be able to tune in,” Steinberger said.
She said the new website is aiming to be more compatible with tablets and mobile devices, which Steinberger said will lead to more online viewers.
Steinberger added that the upgrades being made to the council chamber also will increase online viewership.
She said because the technology in council chambers was outdated, the video feed had technical difficulties on numerous occasions.