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Could C-SPAN Come to Hulu or YouTube TV?

Matt Tamanini

The entertainment industry is full of discussions over the ramifications that cord-cutting has on broadcast networks, what fewer cable subscriptions means for ESPN’s rights packages, and how streaming has impacted cable news, but during these conversations about the evolving television industry, one major channel is often left out: C-SPAN.

The iconic network that covers government with zealous objectivity has been hit hard by declining cable subscriptions. Like all cablers, C-SPAN generates revenue from every cable bill in the country thanks to carriage fees. According to a recent article from Politico, that averages out to be roughly $0.06 per cable subscriber nationwide. So, as people opt out of the traditional TV environment, C-SPAN’s revenue has declined dramatically.

The difference between C-SPAN and other cablers, however, is that TNT, USA Network, and History also sell advertising to make up some of that gap, C-SPAN — a non-profit organization created by the cable industry in 1979 — does not.

In recent years, the network’s operating budget has shrunk from over $70 million per year at its peak to now under $50 million, meaning that C-SPAN has had to begin tightening its belt, but also exploring its future. In addition to incorporating advertising on its website, selling merchandise, and even —- heaven forbid — using words like “heated” in social media posts, the network is also exploring an expansion onto streaming.

Currently, the only streamer that carries C-SPAN is DIRECTV STREAM, but the network’s vice president for affiliate relations and communications Peter Kiley is working to get the channel on YouTube TV and Hulu Live TV as well. While Kiley says that 98% of C-SPAN’s budget still comes from cable fees, the network is open to any possible revenue stream.

“We’ve looked at everything we could possibly come up with,” he said.

While cable news has had a fractious transition to streaming, with CNN+ shuttering less than a month after launch, C-SPAN has had some successes transitioning off of cable already. The network’s YouTube channel has over one million subscribers, while on social media, C-SPAN has 1.5 million followers on Facebook and 2 million on Twitter. Additionally, the network has a successful podcast and the channel’s archives are an invaluable resource for journalists, researchers, and historians.

For years, two of the anchors that cable — and broadcast — have used to keep it afloat were live sports and news coverage. While streaming has tried to encroach on both, customers who are especially invested in those two content areas just can’t seem to completely separate themselves from the traditional TV setup. And while C-SPAN does not do breaking news in the same way that other cable news networks do, it is still a substantial part of news viewers’ media diet.

According to Politico, a 2021 Ipsos analysis “suggests that the number of people who have watched C-SPAN material by any means over the past six months (83 million) is up around 20 percent compared to 2017,” so clearly the cabler’s content still has value to consumers.

While the network does spend a substantial part of its budget covering press conferences, reporter gaggles, book readings, and other events, its bread and butter — congressional coverage — is provided for free by the Capitol. Meaning that, unlike other networks, its largest content comes with nearly no charge to create.

Currently, there are three separate C-SPAN channels (C-SPAN, C-SPAN 2, and C-SPAN 3); short of following CNN+ down the standalone service rabbit hole, the network will likely look to get all three onto as many live TV streaming services as possible to broaden their footprint and revenue.

Perhaps a dedicated Hulu Live hub would get people to turn on congressional hearings as the background noise to their workday. Or, maybe the option to stream book readings and talkbacks would be a hit with YouTube TV customers looking for educational content to stream. Only time will tell, but for an institution that has fought hard to remain as static as possible for decades, C-SPAN’s continued evolution will undoubtedly be just as unusually fascinating to watch as the parliamentary process that it broadcasts on a daily basis.

CSPAN

CSPAN is a TV channel that you can watch with a live TV streaming service.

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