Transportation Management Centers: Streaming Video Sharing and Distribution - Final Report
Chapter 9. Business Practices and Policies
This section examines the different business approaches to video stream sharing including:
- Free access for all.
- Reciprocal access.
- Tiered access (i.e., free for public, fee for higher quality video for media).
- Cost recovery model.
- Profit model.
This section will give detailed examples of how each business practice works, providing agency examples/use-cases where available. The pros and cons of each business practice will be discussed along with details as to how agency policies may impact the success of each practice.
Free access approach is the most liberal approach to closed-circuit television (CCTV) stream sharing. This approach is based on the concept that sharing of CCTV streams provides significant value to the end customer — traveling public — through improved safety and mobility resulting in more efficient and effective operations and coordination. The agency's core mission is to serve the general public and providing CCTV sharing capability speaks directly to this core mission. A free access approach is more attainable for agencies that have already made an investment in field equipment and infrastructure, and need to make smaller incremental investments to make this data available to third parties.
To support free access, agencies must budget for implementation of CCTV sharing mechanisms, as well as on-going operation and maintenance of supporting systems. These funds can be secured and allocated as part of transportation management center (TMC) operational budgets. To make a case for budgeting of CCTV stream sharing, it is critical for the agency to show benefits to operations and to the public. From a “political” standpoint, free access provides exposure via the media and other outlets that provide a positive image for the agency in the eyes of the legislators, the public, and sharing partners. Similarly, free access allows smaller local agencies to become more engaged in managing of transportation issues providing additional benefit to the TMC and the public. For example, a public school system may benefit by gaining awareness of traffic conditions from shared video feeds and adjust schedules and routes accordingly.
Free access for all is not always feasible or possible, especially for agencies that do not have robust infrastructure and sharing capabilities. However, as a step towards a free access goal, agencies sometimes begin by developing sharing capabilities with partners that may be able to share their own video streams (or other data) of value with the TMC. For example, a State or local department of transportation (DOT) responsible or managing an urban network may benefit from access to public safety surveillance equipment to augment TMC capabilities and situational awareness.
In exchange for access to those cameras, the State or local DOT may offer to share traffic cameras with public safety partner(s) in that urban area. The implementation of these individual reciprocal sharing mechanisms can be used as a piecemeal approach to building a more robust sharing solution that can become a free access for all in the future. In the meantime, it presents an opportunity to make a case for sharing to the decision makers and identify other potential partners looking to strike a reciprocal deal.
Free access for all is a good approach, but sometimes suffers from the lowest common denominator problem. Because agencies must make sure they are able to share effectively with everyone, they may select the sharing mechanism that ensures the underlying network and sharing solution doesn't crash or that the costs don't balloon beyond what the agency is capable of absorbing. This often means that everyone gets average or low-quality video access — the lowest common denominator. It may also mean that in case of an incident, a kill switch is engaged shutting off access to all — the public, media, and operational partners. This can be counterproductive as the operational partners may present most value in cases of major incidents as they can provide support or coordinated response. Similarly, the media outlets may decide that low quality video is not good enough to use during live broadcasts, further limiting traveler information dissemination and value of the agency's CCTV sharing investment.
A way to address these issues is to implement a tiered access. Tiered access can be based on video quality and/or quantity. Some of the common approaches include the following tiers:
- Operational Partners Access (Free)
- Medium to high quality video, sufficient to assess the situation and respond accordingly.
- Medium to large number of video feeds ensuring adequate coverage of a larger region to support regional coordination and cooperation.
- Public Safety (Free or $)
- Medium quality, low-latency video providing close to realtime access to ensure safety of first responders and those on the scene.
- Access to several feeds at a time to support specific incident response.
- Media ($$$)
- High quality, sometimes higher latency video that provides a view that looks good during live broadcasts.
- Usually access to one or two feeds at the time as broadcasters often display a single video view supporting narrative for each geographic location in the traffic report.
- Public (Free)
- Low quality, higher latency video that allows adequate view for general public looking to get better informed about conditions on the roadway.
- High number of video streams available to support public use cases such as viewing cameras along an entire route.
Cost Recovery Model
The cost recovery model is most often implemented by agencies that realize the value of CCTV video stream sharing, but have limited or no funds to implement the sharing mechanism. To achieve the goal of sharing, these agencies may evaluate costs associated with design, deployment, and operation of the stream sharing system and pass that cost along to sharing partners. The idea is that the agency still provides value to sharing partners and the public by sharing the CCTV video streams, even if the agency has no dedicated funds to support the sharing efforts.
The main drawback of this approach is that it limits the number of sharing partners willing to invest. If the value to sharing partners is marginal, they may not be willing to foot the bill alone. The economies of scale sometimes make the cost acceptable as the number of sharing partners increases, but to reach this level, the agency must make its own initial investment, which may be challenging.
While the profit model is not pervasive across public agencies, it does appear in some instances. The approach here is similar to the cost recovery model, except that the sharing partners incur higher cost to consume agency video than what it costs the agency to share that video. The idea behind this approach is that the agency has made an investment into a system and can use profits to reinvest into that solution and continue to build out capabilities, improve stream quality, maintain a more stable and robust sharing infrastructure, and keep up with the changing technology. This approach makes sense for high value CCTV deployments along corridors that may experience high levels of congestion and/or incidents where sharing partners may benefit from the information coming from those cameras and media may be making significant profits from advertising or other sponsorships associated with live broadcasts that utilize shared TMC video streams.