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C-SPAN CEOs Rob Kennedy, Susan Swain stepping down

Susan Swain with (from left) Rob Kennedy, co-CEO of C-SPAN, and network founder Brian Lamb in 2012. (Photo by C-SPAN via Wikimedia Commons)
Susan Swain with (from left) Rob Kennedy, co-CEO of C-SPAN, and network founder Brian Lamb in 2012. (Photo by C-SPAN via Wikimedia Commons)

C-SPAN, the not-for-profit political affairs channel bankrolled by cable and satellite television companies, has started looking for a new chief executive after co-CEOs Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain signaled their intention to resign by the end of the year.

Kennedy intends to retire from his co-CEO and Chief Financial Officer roles in May, while Swain is expected to stay on at the network until it finds a new leader. Both have served in the co-CEO roles since 2012.

The network intends to look outside the organization for its new CEO, according to a source familiar with the matter. The website Cablefax was first to report on the departures of the two top executives.

Both co-CEOs have worked to navigate C-SPAN through a trend of cable and satellite “cord-cutting,” in which consumers leave expensive pay television platforms for cheaper, online-only offerings. The trend has cut into C-SPAN’s ability to generate revenue, as most of its operation is funded by cable and satellite companies. C-SPAN’s reach peaked in 2014 at 100 million cable and satellite homes.

Last year, C-SPAN experimented with bringing its three television channels over-the-top for the first time, distributing the C-SPAN network through upstart streaming service Level News.

“We do need to try new things,” Rachel Katz, C-SPAN’s affiliate relations manager, said in an interview last year. “For a long time, 100% of our revenue was subscriber base. And we peaked where cable peaked, and the numbers are down. We have to be forward-thinking, and get in front of the audience that still wants and needs C-SPAN and the coverage that we’re doing and the journalism that we’re doing.”

The co-CEOs signed off on the plan to bring C-SPAN to the streaming masses through Level News, and the network kept a watchful eye on how things progressed to see if it could open the door to more streaming partnerships. Level News shut down in October after running out of funding.

C-SPAN has also looked internally at different ways to generate revenue: It has liberated more than 300,000 hours of content via an online archive, which anyone can access through the C-SPAN website. Some videos include short pre-roll advertisements, which generate ancillary revenue for the service.

“We have a fair amount of money put in reserve that we’ve done over the last 20 years to buy us a lot of time,” C-SPAN Chairman and Cox Communications CEO Pat Esser told Cablefax in an interview. “But you obviously want to get on stable footing and not have that be the way you survive over a decade.”

The next C-SPAN CEO will have to help the network further navigate the murky waters of cord-cutting and get creative when it comes to finding new sources of revenue. They also have to figure out how to differentiate the network from cable and streaming news channels that offer real-time coverage of key political decisions and events, often using the same Senate and House floor cameras that C-SPAN taps for its programming.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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