Cupertino Builds Webcast Studio and Creates Revenue Stream

The City of Cupertino won an Award for Excellence in the Internal Administration category of the 2005 California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more about the award program, visit

The City of Cupertino’s government access TV channel operation began to outgrow its control room space at city hall when live webcasting commenced. The professional ability of the staff, as well as residents’ appetite for information, had driven ongoing infrastructure improvements, but the city’s budget to support the operation was not keeping pace. The challenge then was to continue to improve, maintain and expand communication infrastructure in light of budget shortfalls and staffing cuts.

Open government requires remote access — the ability to see decision-makers at work from the comfort of home. Channel 26, the City Channel, was the first city government channel in Santa Clara County. In its last biannual resident satisfaction survey, 98 percent of the community’s 15,000 households reported they had access to the Internet. Online access to the City Channel has proven popular; city meeting webcasts are viewed 25,000 times per year. Next to public safety, communication is the service residents value most. 

Multimedia advancements have allowed the Public Information Department to improve and expand many of its services. In 2001, the city began live webcasting of city meetings, which allows residents who are not cable subscribers to see live city council meetings, commission meetings and study sessions. It also offers online video archive availability, on demand, at no cost to the public. Throughout the week, viewers can tune into the City Channel to learn about city departments and services, special programs, health and safety tips and upcoming community events.   

In order to continue to improve the city’s communication capabilities, Cupertino needed to create a revenue stream relative to public information. The best means for accomplishing this was developing a meeting rental space with state-of-the-art taping, webcasting and broadcasting infrastructure that would further the goals of the city’s communications program, while providing attractive space for seminars and conferences. Cupertino developed its new community hall as a unique meeting venue with the ability to produce video and DVD records of events for sale.

Public Meeting Space Underwrites Public Information

Four years ago, the city embarked on a civic center development project with a new 55,000 square-foot library at its heart. The library replaced an outdated structure approximately half its size. When the new building was in, design staff determined that constructing a separate community hall — as opposed to a multipurpose community room within the library — would increase the flexibility of the room, incorporate better site design and give the city an opportunity to create a state-of-the-art broadcast and recording space that might bring in meeting rental revenue from Silicon Valley companies. In effect, city staff endeavored to create the first public meeting venue in California that would have the ability to underwrite public information.

Implementing this vision required extra-ordinary effort on the part of city staff members who were key to the design process. Ensuring that the space would be user friendly and provide ultimate flexibility for use, the in-house design effort saved the city approximately $100,000. Staff also managed the relocation of the control room during construction of the new community hall in order to minimize disruption of City Channel meeting broadcasts and keep costs down. The team logged 300 hours of overtime yet managed to complete the project $15,000 under budget.

Construction costs represent only a fraction of the long-term costs of operating the facility. The system is designed to be operable with a skeletal staff so that a reasonable service level can be maintained during lean years. It’s also quite versatile, with fixed cameras in the community hall and three portable studio cameras for additional coverage and to integrate broadcasts from remote locations. The civic plaza is wired with fiber optic cable so it’s possible to broadcast live from multiple locations within the civic center.

The Cupertino Community Hall has had 148 rentals since it opened to the public in fall 2004. Groups as diverse as the Chinese Leadership Council and the Office of Homeland Security have made good use of the space. City staff are currently working with local hoteliers to publicize the facility and have made the community hall available as an incentive to attract meetings to Cupertino. Having developed what it believes to be the only revenue-producing council chambers/community meeting hall in the state, Cupertino is proud of its accomplishment and offers its facility as a model that could be replicated throughout the state. 

Contact: Peter Coglianese, media coordinator, City of Cupertino; phone: (408) 777-3264; e-mail:

This article appears in the June 2006 issue of Western City
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