Some people may think that spending more than an hour listening to an elected official speak in great detail about finances, projections and pensions is boring.
More than 1,700 people did not, as they watched Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget press conference on live streaming video.
“This is easily the highest total of viewers we’ve ever had,” O’Malley Press Secretary Shaun Adamec said after the news conference finished.
As O’Malley opened his straightforward talk on the fiscal year 2012 budget proposal, the counter of people watching the stream – at the lower left hand corner of the screen – spun rapidly. It reached its peak of 1,720 viewers about 10 minutes into O’Malley’s presentation, as he talked about the budget’s 3% necessary spending growth, balanced by the $950 million worth of cuts that need to be made.
Throughout the rest of the presentation, viewership got smaller, but still remained quite high. Near the close of the long news conference, when O’Malley said, “There are only 23 people watching this now,” the counter actually read 1,023.
The people watching the press conference from their homes or offices spent most of the time focused on O’Malley, watching him power through the budget plan, sip his coffee, pause to frame responses to reporters’ questions, and make restrained gestures. The sound quality was mostly clear – ironically, the only thing garbled for the online viewer was a joke about the 1,500 people watching at home – and the only thing viewers could not see in the Governor’s Conference Room were the charts projected on screens behind O’Malley.
(Those charts were published online during the press conference, so people watching by computer could still follow along. The slides focus on the general fund spending, and never mention the total (all funds) budget amount: $34,230,031,661)
Even though the budget is the big issue this year, interest in the issue alone probably did not drive so many people to watch the live broadcast. Adamec said that several news organizations carried the live stream on their websites. O’Malley also sent an e-mail to government employees a half hour before the press conference.
The e-mail detailed many of the benefits O’Malley’s proposal gives to state employees – including a $750 bonus and no furlough days – and included a link to watch the live presentation. O’Malley also wrote an abbreviated blog post encouraging people to watch.
The governor’s office has been webcasting Board of Public Works meetings since late June. The process has steadily improved, and there have been recent webcasts of other events. O’Malley also webcast the press conference where he introduced Dr. Joshua Sharfstein as the new secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, as well as Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony (which only garnered 250 viewers, Adamec said).
Even though the schedule of upcoming webcasts on the governor’s website only includes Board of Public Works meetings right now, Adamec said there is likely to be more government business broadcast on the web in the near future.
“It’s a nice way for the governor to demonstrate transparency,” Adamec said.
If you missed the webcast, it will be continually shown here on a loop until the next scheduled broadcast (the Board of Public Works meeting on Wednesday). After that, it will still be available on the site for on-demand viewing.
One bonus to not watching the press conference live: The 20 minutes of webcast before O’Malley came to the press conference – which was essentially a front row view of members of the media checking their smartphones, writing things in their notebooks, and joking with one another (likely oblivious to the webcams rolling) – have been edited out.