For 36 years, C-SPAN, which is a private, not-for-profit company, has pursued its mission to make government more open to the American public, televising political proceedings to millions of households across the country. Today it's a service available in 100 million American homes, and globally via the internet, providing round-the-clock access to public affairs and political events, U.S. government proceedings, international legislatures, as well as non-fiction book discussions and American history features. C-SPAN began with only four employees. Those four, Brian Lamb, Jana Dabrowski Fay, Don Houle, and Brian Lockman, transmitted the first television feed from the U.S. House of Representatives to C-SPAN viewers on March 19, 1979, the first day the House allowed television coverage of its floor debates.
That first televised congressional session began with a one-minute speech by then-Congressman Al Gore and reached just three million American cable and satellite homes. For C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb and the nascent network's cable system affiliates who provide its funding, the televised House feed was only the beginning. C-SPAN added what became its signature call-in programs the following year, in order to provide a direct conduit between the American public and the nation's political leaders. In 1982, the network expanded from eight to 16, and then 24 hours, enabling it to add a wider variety of public affairs programming to viewers, while maintaining its commitment to carry the proceedings of the U.S. House, live and gavel-to-gavel.
In 1986, when the U.S. Senate voted to televise its debates, C-SPAN launched a second channel, C-SPAN2, to provide unfiltered, gavel-to-gavel access to that body. And, on weekends ever since 1998, C-SPAN2 becomes Book TV, which covers non-fiction book and author events.
When the House and Senate are in session, C-SPAN commits to covering both bodies live and in their entirety. This is a voluntary commitment; there is no contract with the Congress to carry its proceedings. Therefore, in 2001, C-SPAN3 was launched to provide access to additional public affairs events, particularly live coverage of key Congressional hearings. On weekends, C-SPAN3 becomes American History TV, created in 2011 to offer historical lectures, oral histories, video features and special history series.
C-SPAN also extensively covers the President and the Executive Branch of government, including regular coverage of the daily White House and State department briefings. Coverage of the Supreme Court has been more challenging. Beginning in 1988, with a letter to then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, C-SPAN has consistently called for the Supreme Court to allow cameras to cover its approximately 75 hours of annual oral arguments. To date, the Court has refused this request. The network has televised more than 100 oral arguments before federal courts which do allow cameras, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (headquartered in San Francisco), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (based in New York City), as well as many state supreme courts. Each Friday when the Supreme Court is in session, C-SPAN airs the audio of selected Supreme Court oral arguments and televises dozens of speeches and events with the nine individual justices each year.
In 1992, C-SPAN created the C-SPAN bus, a travelling 40-foot mobile learning center and production studio which visits hundreds of communities each year, working with teachers and students to introduce them to the network's coverage of Congress and public affairs. Most recently, C-SPAN developed six travelling "Local Content Vehicles" which visit U.S. cities for a week at a time to record local history and local authors.
C-SPAN has 285 employees and averages 8,000 hours of original public affairs programming every year. In 1997, it added C-SPAN Radio, available in the Washington, DC area and via a mobile app for both iOS and Android.
Most significantly, in 2010, C-SPAN launched the digital version of its video library, making access to its daily coverage and more than 200,000 hours of archived political programming since 1987 available via the internet at c-span.org
C-SPAN is the recipient of dozens of national awards and citations, including three George Foster Peabody Awards: one for institutional excellence in 1993, one in the historical documentary category for its 1999 American Presidents series, and one in 2011 for the C-SPAN online video library.
C-SPAN receives no government money or underwriting support. Its operations are funded entirely by the cable, satellite, and telco companies which distribute its channels to their video customers.