C-SPAN is going behind the cable TV paywall

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Image: AP Photo/C-SPAN
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C-SPAN, the staple of American government and public affairs programming, will soon require a pay television subscription to watch its flagship channels on the internet.

The nonprofit network, created by the cable industry 35 years ago, is currently free online. It’s also included in most basic subscription TV packages. But starting later this summer, you will have to prove that you pay for television before watching C-SPAN, C-SPAN 2, or C-SPAN 3 on the web. (Live streams of the House and Senate chambers will still be available for free.)

“Technology was giving an easy end-around to our core business model,” Peter Kiley, C-SPAN’s vice president, told Quartz. Kiley cited the rise of internet video and streaming media devices like Apple TV as the reason why the network needed to start requiring a TV subscription to watch online.

Despite common misconceptions, C-SPAN is not funded by the government. All of its revenue stems from license fees paid to it by cable companies. The network felt it needed to ensure its survival as more Americans cut the cord and watch TV without paying cable and satellite providers. “We think that we came up with a very straightforward and hybrid approach to the way we do things on the internet going forward,” Kiley said.

The good news for US politics nerds is that C-SPAN will continue to provide live streams of all federal government events, including House and Senate debates and committee hearings, without requiring a pay TV subscription. All of its other programming will also be available for free without log-in from the site’s on-demand video library. You just won’t be able to watch that programming live unless you’re a cable or satellite TV customer.

Used by many streaming video platforms like WatchESPN and HBO Go, the “TV Everywhere” authentication model requires viewers to type in their cable TV username and password in order to access streaming video. C-SPAN’s new system won’t really affect cable customers beyond the one extra step of logging in before watching.

Nonetheless, only 17% of American pay TV customers are even aware of the “TV Everywhere” concept, and many cable industry execs admit that it’s less than ideal in its current form. John Martin, CEO of Turner Broadcasting, has said that “authentication is a barrier to usage.”  C-SPAN is banking on that barrier not being too big.

Check out Glass for more on the future of TV.