Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN /ˈsiːˌspæn/) is an American cable and satellite television network that was created in 1979 by the cable television industry as a nonprofit public service. It televises many proceedings of the United States federal government, as well as other public affairs programming. The C-SPAN network includes the television channels C-SPAN (focusing on the U.S. House of Representatives), C-SPAN2 (focusing on the U.S. Senate), and C-SPAN3 (airing other government hearings and related programming), the radio station WCSP-FM, and a group of websites which provide streaming media and archives of C-SPAN programs. C-SPAN's television channels are available to approximately 100 million cable and satellite households within the United States, while WCSP-FM is broadcast on FM radio in Washington, D.C. and is available throughout the U.S. on SiriusXM via Internet streaming, and globally through apps for iOS and Android devices.
The network televises U.S. political events, particularly live and "gavel-to-gavel" coverage of the U.S. Congress. C-SPAN also televises occasional proceedings of the Australian, British (including the weekly Prime Minister's Questions), and Canadian Parliaments, as well as other major events worldwide. Its coverage of political and policy events is unmoderated, providing the audience with unfiltered information about politics and government. Non-political coverage includes historical programming, programs dedicated to non-fiction books, and interview programs with noteworthy individuals associated with public policy. C-SPAN is a private, nonprofit organization funded by its cable and satellite affiliates, and it does not have advertisements on any of its networks, radio stations, or websites, nor does not solicit donations or pledges. The network operates independently, and neither the cable industry nor Congress has control of its programming content.
Brian Lamb, C-SPAN's chairman and former chief executive officer, conceived C-SPAN in 1975 while working as the Washington, D.C., bureau chief of the cable industry trade magazine Cablevision. It was a time of rapid growth in the number of cable television channels available in the United States. Lamb envisioned a cable-industry financed nonprofit network for televising sessions of the U.S. Congress, other public affairs events, and policy discussions. Lamb shared his idea with several cable executives, who helped him launch the network. Among them were Bob Rosencrans, who provided $25,000 of initial funding in 1979, and John D. Evans, who provided the wiring and access to the headend needed for the distribution of the C-SPAN signal. According to a report from commentator Jeff Greenfield on Nightline in 1980, C-SPAN was launched to provide televised coverage of U.S. political events in their entirety. The purpose was to help viewers maintain a thorough view of politics and especially presidential campaigns. This was unlike television newscasts, which "[do] not really inform us about what the candidates mean to do with the power they ask of us." C-SPAN was launched on March 19, 1979, in time for the first televised session made available by the House of Representatives, beginning with a speech by then-Tennessee representative Al Gore. Upon its debut, only 3.5 million homes were wired for C-SPAN, and the network had just three employees. C-SPAN began full-time operations on September 14, 1982. After C-SPAN was created and began proceedings of the House of Representatives, the Senate wanted the same. After two years of discussion, Majority Leader Howard Baker introduced a resolution to allow cameras into the Senate, but it went nowhere. By 1986, Senator William L. Armstrong convinced his colleagues to allow cameras onto the Senate floor. The second C-SPAN channel, C-SPAN2, followed on June 2, 1986 when the U.S. Senate permitted itself to be televised. It began full-time operations on January 5, 1987. C-SPAN3, the most recent expansion channel, began full-time operations on January 22, 2001, and shows live/taped public policy and government-related events on weekdays, with historical programming being shown on weeknights and weekends. It has also sometimes served as an overflow channel for live programming conflicts on C-SPAN and C-SPAN2. C-SPAN3 is the successor of a digital channel called C-SPAN Extra, which was launched in the Washington D.C. area in 1997, and televised live and recorded political events from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time Monday through Friday. C-SPAN Radio began operations on October 9, 1997, covering similar events as the television networks and often simulcasting their programming. The station broadcasts on WCSP-FM (90.1 MHz) in Washington, D.C., is also available on XM Satellite Radio channel 120 and is streamed live at c-span.org. It was formerly available on Sirius Satellite Radio from 2002 to 2006. Lamb semi-retired in March 2012, coinciding with the channel's 33rd anniversary, and gave executive control of the network to his two lieutenants, Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain. On January 12, 2017, the online feed for C-SPAN1 was interrupted and replaced by a feed from the Russian television network RT America for approximately 10 minutes. C-SPAN announced that they were troubleshooting the incident and were "operating under the assumption that it was an internal routing issue."
C-SPAN celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1989 with a three-hour retrospective, featuring Lamb recalling the development of the network. The 15th anniversary was commemorated in an unconventional manner as the network facilitated a series of re-enactments of the seven historic Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, which were televised from August to October 1994, and have been rebroadcast from time to time ever since. Five years later, the series American Presidents: Life Portraits, which won a Peabody Award, served as a year-long observation of C-SPAN's 20th anniversary. Sen. Robert Byrd (right), C-SPAN's founder Brian Lamb (left) and Paul FitzPatrick flip the switch for C-SPAN2 on June 2, 1986. FitzPatrick was C-SPAN president at the time. In 2004, C-SPAN celebrated its 25th anniversary, by which time the flagship network was viewed in 86 million homes, C-SPAN2 was in 70 million homes and C-SPAN3 was in eight million homes. On the anniversary date, C-SPAN repeated the first televised hour of floor debate in the House of Representatives from 1979 and, throughout the month, 25th anniversary features included "then and now" segments with journalists who had appeared on C-SPAN during its early years. Also included in the 25th anniversary was an essay contest for viewers to write in about how C-SPAN has influenced their life regarding community service. For example, one essay contest winner wrote about how C-SPAN's non-fiction book programming serves as a resource in his charitable mission to record non-fiction audio books for people who are blind. To commemorate 25 years of taking viewer telephone calls, in 2005, C-SPAN had a 25-hour "call-in marathon", from 8:00 pm. Eastern Time on Friday, October 7, concluding at 9:00 pm. Eastern Time on Saturday, October 8. The network also had a viewer essay contest, the winner of which was invited to co-host an hour of the broadcast from C-SPAN's Capitol Hill studios.
CC-SPAN continues to expand its coverage of government proceedings, with a history of requests to government officials for greater access, especially to the U.S. Supreme Court. In December 2009, Lamb wrote to leaders in the House and Senate, requesting that negotiations for health care reform be televised by C-SPAN. Committee meetings on health care were broadcast subsequently by C-SPAN and may be viewed on the C-SPAN website. In November 2010, Lamb wrote to incoming House Speaker John Boehner requesting changes to restrictions on cameras in the House. In particular, C-SPAN asked to add some of its own robotically operated cameras to the existing government-controlled cameras in the House chamber. In February 2011, Boehner denied the request. A previous request to Speaker Designate Nancy Pelosi in 2006, to add C-SPAN's cameras in the House chamber to record floor proceedings, was also denied. Although C-SPAN uses the congressional chamber feed cables, the cameras are owned and controlled by each respective body of Congress. Requests by C-SPAN for camera access to non-government events such as the annual dinner by the Gridiron Club have also been denied. On June 22 and into June 23, 2016, C-SPAN took video footage of the House floor from individual House representatives via streaming services Periscope and Facebook Live during a sit-in by House Democrats asking for a vote on gun control measures after the Orlando nightclub shooting. This needed to be done because—as the sit-in was done out of formal session and while the House was in official recess—the existing House cameras could not be utilized for coverage of the event by rule. Although the use of electronic devices to create the Periscope feeds by House Democrats violated House rules that prohibit their use on the floor, C-SPAN did not state why it chose to broadcast those feeds. The network ran disclaimers on-air and on their official social media feeds noting the restrictions.
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Since the late 1990s, C-SPAN has significantly expanded its online presence. In January 1997, C-SPAN began real-time streaming of C-SPAN and C-SPAN2 on its website, the first time that Congress had been live streamed online. To cover the Democratic and Republican conventions and the presidential debates of 2008, C-SPAN created two standalone websites: the Convention Hub and the Debate Hub. In addition to real-time streams of C-SPAN's television networks online, c-span.org features further live programming such as committee hearings and speeches that are broadcast later in the day, after the House and Senate have left. C-SPAN began promoting audience interaction early in its history, by the regular incorporation of viewer telephone calls in its programming. It has since expanded into social media. In March 2009, viewers began submitting questions live via Twitter to guests on C-SPAN's morning call-in show Washington Journal. The network also has a Facebook page to which it added occasional live streaming in January 2011. The live stream is intended to show selected well-publicized events of Congress. In June 2010, C-SPAN joined with the website Foursquare to provide users of the application with access to geotagged C-SPAN content at various locations in Washington, D.C. In 2010, C-SPAN began a transition to high definition telecasts, planned to take place over an 18-month period. The network provided C-SPAN and C-SPAN2 in high definition on June 1, 2010, and C-SPAN3 in July 2010. As part of the network's 40th anniversary, C-SPAN instituted the second logo change in the network's history on March 18, 2019.
C-SPAN 3 covers public affairs events, congressional hearings and history programming. The weekday programming on C-SPAN3 (from the morning — anywhere from 6 to 8:30 a.m. — to 8 p.m. Eastern Time) features uninterrupted live public affairs events, in particular political events from Washington, D.C. Each weekend since January 8, 2011, the network has broadcast 48 hours of programming dedicated to the history of the United States, under the umbrella title American History TV. The programming covers the history of the U.S. from the founding of the nation through the late 20th century. Programs include American Artifacts, which is dedicated to exploring museums, archives and historical sites, and Lectures in History, featuring major university history professors giving lectures on U.S. history. In 2009, C-SPAN3 aired an eight-installment series of interviews from the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas, which featured historian Richard Norton Smith and Vice President Walter Mondale, among other interviewees.