Brian Lamb sees “the handwriting on the wall” for the cable network he founded, C-SPAN, as well as the rest of television news—and it’s called the Internet. “[President-elect] Barack Obama has already started it,” he said, by shifting from a weekly radio address to a weekly video address posted to YouTube.
Mr. Lamb delivered the James L. Loper Lecture in Public Service Broadcasting Thursday at USC, sponsored by the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership.
Actually, he admitted, on the topic of the future of TV news, “I have no idea where it’s going. I knew where it was going 30 years ago,” when he started C-SPAN.
The secret to the cable channel’s success, he admitted, is the same as when he started it, “at a time in broadcasting when no one thought cable would work. But I knew if you keep costs down, you have a shot.”
“If you add up every penny I’ve made over the past 30 years, it does not equal one year of salary for a network news anchor, he said. “And I’m overpaid.”
C-SPAN’s success has required the help of hundreds of others, he said, including people in the business world “who never get credit for anything.
The cable network just secured its funding for another nine years, he said.
One change he’s seen: “I’m 67, and my board members are now 45, and all MBAs,” he quipped.
A member of the audience asked Mr. Lamb if he had any suggestions for improving network news. “No,” was the reply.
“That’s not my business,” he elaborated. “Frankly, if you look at what’s happening to their ratings, you just don’t want to be them. Young people just aren’t going there.” Despite the networks’ dominance, he predicted, “they will change when they have to,” to become more agile and nimble.
Mr. Lamb was introduced by Tavis Smiley, who pointed out that he and his fellow Hoosier “really should not be friends,” as Mr. Lamb attended Purdue and Mr. Smiley attended rival Indiana University. Mr. Smiley praised C-SPAN, saying it “stands for telling the truth” and “has allowed us to revel in our freedoms.”