C-Span Faces a Budget Crisis


A C-Span truck at Miami-Dade College in Miami.


Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group by way of Getty Images

Congress could also be spending extra money than ever, however the identical can’t be stated for the TV channel that gives stay protection of it. C-Span expects its income to sink under $50 million this yr for the primary time since 2005. This bodes ailing for a useful service to American democracy.

Created as a nonprofit in 1979 by a consortium of cable-TV operators, C-Span started by providing gavel-to-gavel protection of the House. Seven years later it added Senate proceedings. Revenue got here, because it does in the present day, primarily from a share of month-to-month charges: roughly 6 cents from every related dwelling. In the mid-’90s, DirecTV and different satellite tv for pc opponents began carrying the channels for a similar per-customer payment.

Now C-Span faces two distinct obstacles: attain and income. Cord-cutting, the shift away from cable and satellite tv for pc, has lowered C-Span’s distribution via these shops to roughly 70 million houses from about 100 million in 2014. With 98% of its income tied straight to those markets, C-Span’s annual take has fallen by about $20 million.

What might be completed? In addition to promoting espresso mugs and T-shirts, C-Span runs adverts on its web site, cell app and YouTube channel. The main feeds on cable and satellite tv for pc, nevertheless, stay ad-free.

“There’s been some inconsistencies,” co-CEO

Susan Swain

says in an interview. “We’re kind of dipping our ankles into the pond here and gone from a company that has never had to do any of this for 40 years, to having to rethink our relationship with our affiliates and our relationship with our ultimate customers, while preserving the central mission of what we do.”

C-Span ought to create a company underwriting format, much like PBS. It has by no means sought authorities funding, insisting that such a transfer can be anathema to its nonpartisan mission. And C-Span hasn’t requested viewers to turn out to be patrons—but. Sources say appeals for public donations will start quickly.

Management can be desperately in search of offers with streaming providers akin to Hulu Live, operated by


and YouTube TV, owned by Google, which might add a number of million {dollars} in income. Talks haven’t gotten far, regardless of what would appear to be a clear-cut public-service alternative for the businesses concerned.

Meanwhile, about 25% of U.S. houses have free entry to C-Span’s main protection of Congress by way of the web, though they don’t subscribe to conventional cable or satellite tv for pc. That’s roughly 35 million houses from which C-Span will get no income. At 6 cents per buyer monthly, it quantities to about $25 million in potential income every year. Notably, a lot of this broadband service is provided by the very media corporations, together with


and Cox, which can be on C-Span’s govt committee.

C-Span not helps these corporations because it did in 1979, when cable operators wanted to impress native communities with their civic-mindedness in hopes of successful unique franchises. For the general public, nevertheless, it stays a significant service—maybe now greater than ever.

Americans want a window into the operations of presidency, and C-Span wants greater than espresso mugs, T-shirts and good intentions to maintain it open.

Mr. Funt is writer of “Self-Amused: A Tell-Some Memoir.”

Wonder Land: The U.S. system of presidency is mired in sludge after many years of ‘doing one thing’ to unravel issues, solely to make issues worse. Images: AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared within the June 15, 2022, print version.

Source: www.wsj.com