C-SPAN in its dirty thirties
March 23, 2009 6:42 PM   Subscribe

March 19, 1979 - The United States House of Representatives goes live on television for the first time in history. Footage from the House floor aired on a network created by a consortium of American cable companies. The first member of Congress to speak? Al Gore (Sorry, only seems to be available on Real Player. Embedded video, in case weird link fails).

2009 marks the 30th anniversary of C-SPAN. Since 1979, C-SPAN has broadcast over 19,000 hours of Congressional Committee hearings, 26,000 hours of U.S. House debate. A 2004 viewership survey estimated 42 percent of cable/satellite viewers, across various demographics, watched C-SPAN at least once or twice per week. (Report overview - PDF) In 2006, a Pew report put the number at 59 million "regular" or "sometimes" viewers. (Full report - PDF)

C-SPAN was founded by Brian P. Lamb, a naval veteran who was a social aide to Lyndon Johnson and worked for Richard Nixon. In 1986, the U.S. Senate joined the live TV fray when C-SPAN2 began broadcasting. C-SPAN3 began offering further public affairs programming in 1997. None of non-profit C-SPAN networks receive government funding of any kind.

The C-SPAN of 2009 reaches 97 million households, a far cry from the 3.5 million households it reached on its inception. C-SPAN and its sister networks have quietly contributed to the political discourse through it's coverage of the House, its advocacy for cameras in the courts, and its many series, such as Book TV and Washington Journal. Much of their video material is available on the web, archived, or streaming. In February 2009 the network released its Second Historians Presidential Leadership Survey, which garnered some noise in the media. There is also evidence that C-SPAN's viewers are more active citizens than their non-C-SPAN viewing neighbors. Although, the network and its programming have sometimes been criticized for conservative bias.

Happy late birthday to C-SPAN!
posted by IvoShandor (17 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you Washington Journal and Thank you for C-Span
posted by wcfields at 6:54 PM on March 23, 2009

They also have a very friendly copyright policy, in essence treating all of their video as a noncommercial-attribution license, and explicitly acknowledging fair use exemptions. Good on them.

And great post, very interesting. I wonder how much C-SPAN one has to watch to be a 'sometimes' viewer.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:59 PM on March 23, 2009

Frank Zappa hated television, but he watched C-SPAN religiously after he got involved in politics as a result of the PMRC hearings. It's a very worthwhile use of such a communication medium. I think this sort of thing should be permanently funded by the government, but at least someone had the vision to get it started as a non-profit.

But I do find it amusing that Gore's historic appearance is only available on perhaps the most reviled of proprietary embedded media formats.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:00 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

The first member of Congress to speak? Al Gore.

Then B-1 Bob Dornan spoke for six years straight.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:10 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like Book TV, and I love C-SPAN's debate coverage. Thanks!
posted by box at 7:15 PM on March 23, 2009

Man, finally, the U.S. house of Reps on t.v! Live! First time in history, what a historic moment. Man this is going to be exciting!
*turns on tube*
Gore: First...I think...we should begin....by thinking... about....drone.... drone... drone...
*turns off tube*

Seriously, best thing since sliced bread. I think the only time it fails is when it does what pretty much every other cable show seems to do, not do what it says it's there for.
Like M-TV. Can't remember the last time I saw an actual music video on there. Or even something music related other than vaguely tangentially related.
But otherwise, just putting the cameras in the room? Marvelous!
posted by Smedleyman at 7:39 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to looove Book TV when I had more time to watch television. (When I was in grad school, go figure.) Brian Lamb's series on U.S. Presidents was fantastic. Episodes on presidents like Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore were actually more interesting than the more famous presidents. One reviewer said the series "gave us a little more than we need to know on the Wilmot Proviso." That's aces in my book.

Happy Birthday C-Span!

Oh, and...

Metafilter: a Little Bit More than we need to know on the Wilmot Proviso
posted by marxchivist at 7:40 PM on March 23, 2009

I wonder how much C-SPAN one has to watch to be a 'sometimes' viewer.

I think I saw somewhere it was once or twice a week, can't remember if I linked that in there or not.

But I do find it amusing that Gore's historic appearance is only available on perhaps the most reviled of proprietary embedded media formats.

Those who find both terribly boring might find it amusing that C-SPAN's premiere broadcast featured Al Gore. Heh. Also, maybe someone could upload it to YouTube? Would their copyright permit that, I'm not talented enough for such a task.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:43 PM on March 23, 2009

Most. Boring. Station. Ever.

Just after MTV.
posted by matty at 7:55 PM on March 23, 2009

Al Gore later suggested that Congress should debate on C-SPAN live in primetime. And they should be allowed to show people sitting (or not sitting) in their seats. Maybe not very realistic, but I like that idea.
posted by starman at 8:25 PM on March 23, 2009

Sometimes it is awesome and exciting, like when Mean Jean Shaheen totally went nuts on Murtha. He had put a tough symbolic bill on Iraq out there and as a former Marine Col. and Vietnam Vet, it had weight. Shaheen got some military guy in her district to call him a coward. Harold Ford totally lost it. You see, it is against the rules to insult another member of the House while holding the floor. Shaheen was whisked off the floor and was no doubt worked over by Tom Delay in the backroom. The money I would have paid to see that. Anyway, Shaheen comes out and formally withdraws her comment. Looking back I realize it was the time when it became painfully obvious that the Republicans were just going too far on waiving the bloody shirt on Iraq. It was the beginning of the end for their majority.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:03 PM on March 23, 2009

RealPlayer without the adds from the BBC...
posted by pwb503 at 10:12 PM on March 23, 2009

I miss C-SPAN.
Well over a year ago, Comcast moved all C-SPAN channels off their analog service.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:33 AM on March 24, 2009

I miss C-SPAN.

You can stream it, see the link above, you should be able to get to whatever is on now, which is Washington Journal.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:20 AM on March 24, 2009

"Sometimes it is awesome and exciting, like when Mean Jean Shaheen totally went nuts on Murtha."

That was actually Rep Jean Schmidt of Ohio. Jean Shaheen is a NH Senator.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:31 AM on March 24, 2009

Uh, yeah, sorry. I got all mixed up there. It is Jean Schmidt. I guess I just liked the Jean and Shaheen and forgot it was Schmidt.

Sorry Sen. Shaheen. I know you're on the side of light.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 AM on March 24, 2009

I once made out with a girl while watching Supreme Court confirmation hearings on C-SPAN.

True story.
posted by champthom at 10:04 AM on April 4, 2009

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