Friday, May 13, 2022

C-SPAN Challenged By Cord-Cutting

C-SPAN has been walloped by cord-cutting, a phenomenon that has slashed its revenues and audience while hammering the cable companies that fund the network. 

Politico reports the brutal environment has lately forced major changes on the 43-year-old Washington institution, including staff cuts and once-unthinkable business deals. Formerly in nearly 100 million homes, the network’s TV offerings are now in fewer than 70 million. C-SPAN’s brand new app, its website and its social media channels will need to make up the difference — but, compared to the cable channels, all face much more competition.

How did an advertising-free nonprofit that hasn’t even used Nielsen ratings come to sweat about how some hearing-room video performs on Twitter? It begins with the business model. Until a few years ago, C-SPAN — underwritten by the nation’s cable television providers — was living the dream: Roughly six cents of every monthly cable bill in the country went to the network, a guaranteed income stream that that helped the company grow beyond the Capitol’s feed of gavel-to-gavel congressional coverage to include broadcast footage of political events around the country, a radio platform and its own proprietary books and history coverage, with enough left over for educational ventures like the C-SPAN bus.

But the last decade has pounded the cable industry, and C-SPAN along with it. Revenue from cable fees has tumbled from upward of $70 million at peak to what is projected to be less than $50 million this year. According to Politico, they’ve had to trim the sails: There was a buyout last year, as staff size fell from roughly 235 to about 200. The bus was quietly mothballed.

More interestingly, reports Politico, cable providers’ troubles have also forced a certain amount of culture change at a Washington institution that once seemed insulated from the grubby business of commerce. Peter Kiley, the network’s vice president for affiliate relations and communication is pushing to get C-SPAN on streaming services such as YouTube TV and Hulu Live. There are now advertisements on the website, the YouTube channel and the app. They’re hiring their first chief digital officer and thinking about ways of licensing content and possibly cultivating donors a la public radio.

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