C-SPAN turns 40: Celebrating Your Front Row Seat to American Politics

cspan logo next to united states capitol

Forty years ago, Americans witnessed the very first airing of the House of Representatives. C-SPAN officially launched on March 19, 1979, and has been broadcasting countless federal government proceedings ever since. In honor of its anniversary, the network has donned a new look and a campaign with fresh tag lines and messaging that viewers will see over the next several months. However, its mission remains the same—and that is to continue to provide viewers with uneditorialized and unfiltered coverage of the U.S. political process. Its new secondary tagline, “Make Up Your Own Mind,” pretty much says it all. Unlike any other media network, C-SPAN’s lack of talking heads and pundits allows viewers to judge the news for themselves.

The network captures government proceedings and events live and without commercial breaks, commentary or analysis. Many people don’t realize that this type of unbiased coverage is possible because C-SPAN is not a tax-funded government channel—it’s supported by cable affiliates across the country. This means it is not driven by ratings and uses this liberty to provide audiences with a comprehensive look at what’s going on before, during, and after a Congressional briefing, hearing, or event in the Rose Garden.

As a March 2019 commentary piece in the Washington Post  pointed out, there was a lot of uncertainty in C-SPAN’s early days as to whether this type of coverage would gain any momentum. Well, it certainly took off! In 1986, C-SPAN’s cameras were allowed on the Senate floor for the first time, giving Americans a transparent view of debates and key legislative moments—a value that most people now take for granted.

While the viewing platforms have changed in the past several decades, many people in today’s social media and technology-centric culture still turn to C-SPAN for political coverage and for the resources and information they need to become engaged citizens. C-SPAN has also evolved to reach viewers where they are through its extensive digital media library, social media channels, and the C-SPAN bus which travels around the country educating schools and communities about election resources and information. In 2016, NCTA also had the privilege of hopping aboard the C-SPAN bus during the Presidential Primary in New Hampshire and witnessed the personal outreach that the network invests in year-round to connect with citizens.

C-SPAN continues to be the cable industry’s gift to America. There’s no telling what sorts of technology and digital shifts will come in the future, but a network like C-SPAN is timeless. It belongs to the American public, and there is no replacement for that.