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Why C-SPAN is ending its live web stream for cordcutters

A screen capture of a C-SPAN 2 broadcast. (Photo: C-SPAN)
A screen capture of a C-SPAN 2 broadcast. (Photo: C-SPAN)

Starting soon, the 24-hour political affairs channel C-SPAN will begin restricting its live online stream to cable and satellite subscribers during portions of its broadcast day.

As first reported by The Wrap on Tuesday, C-SPAN will begin placing certain programs produced in-house, such as Washington Journal, behind a locked door that can only be accessed by cable and satellite subscribers. The move is similar to that of other networks, including CNN, FOX News and those operated by Turner Broadcasting which make live programming streams available on the Internet and on mobile devices to pay TV subscribers of certain services.

C-SPAN says the move to restrict the available of programming produced in-house is necessary to ensure the channel continues to be funded. Contrary to popular belief, C-SPAN receives no federal funding and is instead paid for by a nominal license fee collected from cable and satellite affiliates.

But as television viewers increasingly choose over-the-top methods (like streaming from Netflix or Hulu) to access desired programming, C-SPAN is worried that their funding will soon dry up.

“That’s our sole source of revenue,” C-SPAN executive Peter Kiley told The Wrap. “The question was without it, how long can we stay in business?”

The announcement was an uncomfortable reminder to many political junkies who watch C-SPAN on the Internet that the network is not a true public service, but instead an extension of the cable and satellite business. With the announcement, C-SPAN is determined to root itself to an antiquated business model for as long as it can until it is forced to innovate beyond cable and satellite — or die.

“As we looked at changes in technology and changes in television distribution, we felt it was important to position ourselves to see that the license fee would continue to be paid for as long as we could,” Kiley said.

Programs that are simulcast on C-SPAN from third parties, such as the House of Representatives broadcaster and feeds provided by the White House, will continue to be available in the clear for cord cutters. Many of those broadcasts are already available elsewhere on the Internet: The House has its own live Internet broadcast, and the White House makes most of its events and announcements available to stream on YouTube and other platforms. That could be one reason why C-SPAN doesn’t feel the need to restrict those broadcasts to pay TV customers.

For now, C-SPAN will also continue to make “on demand” versions of its previous broadcasts free for the public.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).