It’s wartime in Britain, 1940, and Winston Churchill stands up in Parliament to deliver a speech which will be remembered for generations.
As he utters those immortal words “We shall fight them on the beaches,” the sound is broken for... “Suds Powder gets your washing whiter”.
Imagine the outcry and imagine that his contribution to oratory history might have been tarnished.
Well that is the situation recently faced by audiences watching the full Birmingham City Council meetings on the internet.
While I am not suggesting that anyone in the council chamber has yet made a speech comparable with Churchill’s, if they were to we might just miss it.
Until the turn of the year anyone reviewing the councillors’ performance in a six-hour single video clip was liable to be interrupted by an advert.
“Our bleach gets your local politics clean”, was the inference or “don’t listen to them, drive our fancy new car – it will make you more attractive to girls”.
One councillor has even spoken of being horrified to see a contraceptive advert pop up while reviewing footage of a speech – presumably the subliminal message is “don’t let them breed”.
There was also a legitimate fear that unsavoury cash for gold or payday loan company adverts could appear and sully the name of Birmingham City Council.
But with politicians nervous over any spending commitment which might be spun by cynics as paying to promote themselves, but still keen to embrace new technology, they have had to suffer the indignity of advertising via a free web TV service. (The cameras have been filming meetings on a closed circuit for some years now).
A new video provider, Justintv, was found in January and both the quality of broadcast and the quality of adverts have improved.
Those watching last week most likely enjoyed a 30 second pitch from P&O Cruises or something similar before the political sparring began. The adverts also appear at the start of the session, so there is little chance of one interrupting the grandstanding from Couns Bore, Whitby and co.
Apparently the total audience for the council meetings since January this year is 31,500 – which suggests it is being viewed by more than just the 120 councillors and their immediate families. The footage is also easily cut and clipped and uploaded to other websites.
But now the UK’s largest local authority is wondering if it should be doing something a little more professional and whether technology should be used more widely to reach a larger audience, particularly younger voters.
And a small cross party committee made up of John Clancy (Lab, Quinton), Robert Alden (Cons, Erdington) and Jon Hunt (Lib Dem, Perry Barr) is looking at the options which they hope to put before Deputy Leader Ian Ward within weeks.
Coun Clancy said: “What we have is as good as we can get for nothing. But while being very thrifty, it is capable of making the city look bad – particularly in front of investors.”
He said they will be looking at a range of options and what can be achieved for certain levels of investment – although keeping costs down will be key.
These include broadcasting more meetings – such as scrutiny, planning and licensing committees, as well as time saving measures such as getting officials in remote offices or witnesses to appear via Skype rather than wasting time and expenses on attending in person.
There is also a feeling that as Birmingham has big IT contracts and staff, these should be used more to deliver improvements in these areas.
To see what can be done only takes a quick web search – Lancashire County Council for example has a pretty polished system, where all manner of information appears alongside the video – agenda documents, minutes, names and profiles of speakers and even links to jump straight to a specific item or contribution.