C-SPAN Makes Quarter Century of Video Archives Available Online, Free

by on March 16, 2010 · 5 comments

Brian Stelter of The New York Times reports today that “C-Span has uploaded virtually every minute of its video archives to the Internet”:

The archives, at C-SpanVideo.org, cover 23 years of history and five presidential administrations and are sure to provide new fodder for pundits and politicians alike. The network will formally announce the completion of the C-Span Video Library on Wednesday.

That’s just incredible. But, as I recently noted in my essay on, “C-SPAN, Civic-Minded Programming & Public Interest Regulation,” what’s more incredible it that this amazing, unprecedented civic resource has been provided to Americans at zero expense for the American taxpayer.  Many people fail to realize that C-SPAN is a private, non-profit company that is provided as a public service by cable industry contributions. It receives no government or taxpayer contributions whatsoever. From 1979-2009, total license fees paid by cable & satellite companies to support C-SPAN totaled $922 million.

So, next time you hear someone whining about how the private sector fails to provide “public interest programming,” ask them why the government didn’t think of C-SPAN first.  And don’t let them forget how, when C-SPAN first got off the ground, many in Congress fought the idea of public access to the inner workings of government. Thank God some folks in the private sector kept the heat on for access, while also keeping the monetary support flowing for the massive investment necessary to keep this unprecedented public resource alive and growing.

Visit C-SPAN’s amazing — and easily searchable — video archive today: www.c-spanvideo.org/videoLibrary

  • Bruce Collins

    Thanks for dispelling some of the myths about C-SPAN.

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  • http://www.sleepcamel.net Brad Weikel

    Adam – thanks for sharing this news — what a fantastic resource to make available.

    However, I think it's a big stretch to use C-SPAN as some sort of magic bullet for the entire public interest programming discussion, particularly because you've failed to mention one critical detail: C-SPAN is on cable, which completely changes the economics of distribution, doesn't reach the 14% of households without cable, doesn't use public broadcast spectrum and, consequently, doesn't fit in the same discussion as the historical debate over the public interest requirement of network television. Further, even if it was a broadcast station, my experience is that this debate has historically been dominated by the decline of children's education programming as shows like He-Man (1982) turned children's programming into an action-figure sales frenzy that replaced smart educational programming with mindless and often violent cartoons. I'm sure that if there was a way to sell action figures on C-SPAN, the private sector would pounce on the opportunity, the quality of the programming would suffer, and (particularly because of the curious public/private niche it fills) replacing it with a publicly valuable alternative would be nearly impossible.

    Further, I don't think people on the other side of the debate from you are particularly interested in an anecdotal counterexample, because their position isn't an ideological claim that the private sector can never provide valuable public services. Rather, their position is that when it comes to meeting the public interest requirement of *broadcast television*, which relies upon a public good (spectrum), the private sector has consistently failed for half a century, particularly on the issue of children's program. The FCC started down the right path in enforcing regulations of the public interest requirement, but subsequently rolled over to the NAB and their powerful private sector supporters. The fact that the private sector managed to launch the Learning Channel on cable television doesn't negate 50 years of failure on broadcast television. Likewise, C-SPAN is a wild success, and of huge public value, but it doesn't address any of these concerns.

  • http://www.sleepcamel.net Brad Weikel

    Adam – thanks for sharing this news — what a fantastic resource to make available.

    However, I think it's a big stretch to use C-SPAN as some sort of magic bullet for the entire public interest programming discussion, particularly because you've failed to mention one critical detail: C-SPAN is on cable, which completely changes the economics of distribution, doesn't reach the 14% of households without cable, doesn't use public broadcast spectrum and, consequently, doesn't fit in the same discussion as the historical debate over the public interest requirement of network television. Further, even if it was a broadcast station, my experience is that this debate has historically been dominated by the decline of children's education programming as shows like He-Man (1982) turned children's programming into an action-figure sales frenzy that replaced smart educational programming with mindless and often violent cartoons. I'm sure that if there was a way to sell action figures on C-SPAN, the private sector would pounce on the opportunity, the quality of the programming would suffer, and (particularly because of the curious public/private niche it fills) replacing it with a publicly valuable alternative would be nearly impossible.

    Further, I don't think people on the other side of the debate from you are particularly interested in an anecdotal counterexample, because their position isn't an ideological claim that the private sector can never provide valuable public services. Rather, their position is that when it comes to meeting the public interest requirement of *broadcast television*, which relies upon a public good (spectrum), the private sector has consistently failed for half a century, particularly on the issue of children's program. The FCC started down the right path in enforcing regulations of the public interest requirement, but subsequently rolled over to the NAB and their powerful private sector supporters. The fact that the private sector managed to launch the Learning Channel on cable television doesn't negate 50 years of failure on broadcast television. Likewise, C-SPAN is a wild success, and of huge public value, but it doesn't address any of these concerns.

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