Editorial: C-SPAN an Example of What TV Can Be

Mar 15, 2004  •  Post A Comment

As C-SPAN celebrates its 25th anniversary, the TV industry would do well to take notice of the cable network’s unique success story.
Surviving into the 21st century would have been a lot to expect back when the network launched in 1979. The deck was stacked against a channel whose mission, in contrast to that of the rest of the cable business, was not to make money but to provide public access to the political process. A nonprofit private corporation funded by cable operators, C-SPAN was reality TV in its purest form-an unedited look at the inner workings of democracy, no matter how slow-paced or lacking in drama it might be at any given time, without regard for ratings or the whims of sponsors.
That mission has remained intact, even as the network has repeatedly reinvented itself to survive and to keep up with the times. C-SPAN Chairman and CEO Brian Lamb deserves credit for keeping the ship afloat and on course. The founder and driving force behind the network has demonstrated a level of commitment over the years that is rare in the TV business, and without his efforts it is unlikely C-SPAN would be celebrating a quarter-century of public service.
Mr. Lamb and the others who have made C-SPAN a success recognize that democracy works only when the people are able to keep an eye on it. They know that in the modern age, television is the best way to make that possible. By fulfilling that seemingly simple mission, they have made C-SPAN a fixture of American society and a valuable part of the process. The network truly is the nation’s window on democracy.
The people behind C-SPAN showed vision. Just how rare such vision is in television is more obvious now than ever. C-SPAN stands out because it allows viewers to make up their minds without commentary or spin. It often is the lone venue that is willing to deal with issues that, though important, may lack the entertainment value needed to attract the attention of the broadcast nets or the cable news channels.
The network continues to adapt and to move forward. Its successful expansion to multiple channels, and a broader range of topics and events, underscores the need for this unique service. The network’s Web site, with its extensive archives, has become a vital resource in its own right. And the network continues to embrace new technology, including video-on-demand.
C-SPAN stands as a prime example of what is right about the television industry. TelevisionWeek congratulates this unique and important cable network, and the cable operators who have made it possible, on 25 years of success.