As of April 1, Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain are taking over the reins of C-SPAN after 33 years
of stewardship by its founder, CEO, board chairman and public face, Brian Lamb. The new co-CEOs talked with Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton
last week about the future of the cable industry-created window on Washington’s political sausage
MCN: This change was anticipated back in 2006,
when you were named co-presidents. What signaled
this was the time to make a change?
Rob Kennedy: I think Brian felt like it was the right
time. He had been talking with the board about succession
planning [the plan was approved last September]
and he chose the timing.
MCN: How is the co-CEO relationship going to work?
RK: We have complementary skills. I am more the
hardware side and Susan is the software side. Susan
mostly focuses on content and marketing and I focus
on the infrastructure, the finances and technology. Together
we work on strategy. For example, digital strategy
we work on together. We have been doing this for
20 years in similar roles. Our offices are right next door
to each other.
Susan Swain: The thing that is going to make this work
for us is that the two of us work collaboratively, not
MCN: What is changing?
SS: What’s different is that Brian has been the public
face of this network for 35 years, and he would like to
move out of that role. Those are really big shoes for us
to fill, but we have both internal and external constituencies
who have to learn to turn to us and to speak
with authority about the direction of this network. And
I think that is the big change.
MCN: OK, what is the next direction for C-SPAN?
RK: The main thing is to strive for relevance in an everchanging
media landscape as technologies change. We
have to make our content relevant. We have to make sure
it is distributed on the platforms where our customers and
our viewers are, and make it useful.
MCN: But with all the congressional information
online and the Hill doing its own streaming of
hearings, do you see a time when C-SPAN is no
SS: Our job is to figure out a way to keep it relevant.
People are going to be watching TV for a long time, but
we have to continue to reassure them that if they want
to know what happened today in Washington they can
find it on C-SPAN; if they are looking for coverage of
nonfiction books, we’re the place; and, increasingly, the
kind of history coverage you can’t get anywhere else on
TV is coming from our American History TV. We have to
make sure that those brands stay strong.
MCN: Who owns C-SPAN?
RK: We’re a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation, governed
by a board of directors drawn from the cable
industry, and our license fee is around 6 cents a
MCN: Is 6 cents enough to do what you need to
RK: It funds us to the tune of $60 million a year.
The industry has been very good with their support.
From our inception through March 19 —
our 33rd anniversary — the industry has invested
about $1 billion in C-SPAN. Recently ,we have
converted to HD, so all three of our networks are
now fed in HD, and the budget allows us to program
those three networks 24.7.
SS: We are conservative but not parsimonious in
our budgeting. We spend our money well and we
think we give a good return to the cable industry
for the money they’ve invested in us.
MCN: You talked about your three channels, but
isn’t C-SPAN a lot more than that?
RK: Definitely. We are a radio station in D.C., [Sirius XM
Radio] and online; we have a C-SPAN video library archive
that contains everything on C-SPAN since 1997. It
is also the biggest game changer in our business in the
past couple of years.
SS: This year, the number of people in all parts of the political
process accessing the digital library and building
profiles and biographies of people who are running for office and issues is just really fund to watch. That has really
changed the way people are using C-SPAN.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.