Category Archives: C-SPAN

Navigating CES 2013

Once again I was fortunate to attend the CES show in Las Vegas. While there were many cool gadgets and some very impressive UltraHD monitors, the most relevant developments (at least for C-SPAN) continued to focus on helping consumers navigate through the wide variety of content that will (and in may cases has) converged on their television screen. While I didn’t see any great breakthroughs with respect to television navigation, there were several examples of incremental improvements that built on some of the systems we saw last year.

As the emphasis continues on bringing multiple content sources to the single screen (cable, web, streaming), the lack of simple and personal navigation interfaces have caused some observers to conclude that TV is broken and only Apple can fix it. Some see it as reason alone not to even consider buying the new TVs. Others saw small steps of progress at the CES. I agree that navigation is still a huge challenge and despite the lack of breakthroughs, there is definitely some forward progress.

Setting aside some of the more gimmicky ideas (gesture and voice recognition), Cox seems to be on to something with a new, simple interface for developing a personal profile at the guide level, while adding personalized recommendations to the interface.

As I posted last year, this new world of “mixed” content bring challenges for traditional linear networks. Distribution success doesn’t stop at gaining carriage and counting on “channel flipping” (and some marketing) to gain viewers and users. The traditional grid — while certainly still available — is on a decline as the primary means of navigation. And, as we know from the research (and anecdotally) real-time viewing of linear television is on the decline as a percentage of consumption.

To compete in this new world, distribution success also means “data success”. For a news-oriented programmer like C-SPAN, it’s helpful to look at the three main “parts” of this equation:

  1. Collection of data during the production process
  2. “Massaging” data internally for distribution
  3. Gaining access to navigation platforms and matching data to the platform

Each of these are very large challenges! And it may go without saying, but any internal process to manage data must be informed by developments in these consumer-focused navigation systems, and it is especially important to understand that as viewers each of us is already operating in “our own world” when it comes to data-driven consumption. No “one” way represents a large portion of the marketplace (with the possible exception of grid-based navigation, at least for a while) And, at the risk of pressing this point too far, we need to be especially aware of our own experience-based and generational biases.

The challenge,then is twofold. The industry must develop intuitive interfaces for consumers, and programmers — like C-SPAN — must prepare to operate in a data-driven world that will replace the serendipity of the program grid.

March 8, 2007: We’ve come a long way.

Five years ago today, C-SPAN announced a new,  less restrictive policy for posting certain C-SPAN videos on the web.  This “liberalized copyright policy” permitted noncommercial posting of C-SPAN video of federal government events so long as attribution was included.  Federal government events included congressional committee hearings and executive branch briefings. (Coverage of the House and Senate floor proceedings is produced by the Congress and as such is considered public domain.)

This new policy was rooted in the advent of of YouTube, the increasing use of C-SPAN video there, and confusion over what was allowable. Our previous policy had been to assert copyright in the case of congressional hearings, but advocates for the public domain like Carl Malamud argued that  “releasing [congressional hearings] back into the public domain … will make our public civic life richer.”  Our choice to take a more open approach represented an adaptation of our mission to new web video technology, similar to our decision years earlier to stream our television networks on the web.  In the words of Bill Bresnan, then-Chairman of the C-SPAN Executive Committee:

“The C-SPAN board sees this as helping us carry out C-SPAN’s public service mission. The cable industry created this network to allow citizens greater access to their government and this enhancement appropriately reflects the rapid changes in the online information world.”

Reaction was generally positive and the change received good mentions from the likes of Jeff Jarvis and Matt Stoller, although some argued that the new policy didn’t go far enough. And in fact we have greatly expanded on the basic premise in the ensuing years. Looking back, we can now see the 2007 policy as a watershed that paved the way for several initiatives and tools that greatly expanded our viewers’ ability to use C-SPAN video in social media. These include:

1. The C-SPAN Video Library

Officially launched in 2010 after several years in development, the C-SPAN Video Library is an online repository of every C-SPAN program since 1987 — at last count, more than 161,000 hours. All available for streaming, free of charge. In addition to robust search and browse functionality, the library provides several tools for online video sharing. Site users can create video clips and share them via email or social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.  Users can also embed selected video (including all public domain, federal events and public affairs programming) on their own sites.

2. C-SPAN on YouTube

We’ve expanded the C-SPAN YouTube channel which now hosts over 2700 videos with a cumulative view count of 53,000,000. In addition to complete episodes of several C-SPAN programs including Communicators and Q&A, we post clips from recent public affairs events which can be shared and embedded using the YouTube toolset.

3. Expanded availability of government-produced (public domain) video.

In 2007 we committed to build out our website as a “one-stop resource for Congressionally-produced webcasts of House and Senate committee and subcommittee hearings”.  The actual release of video has been slow moving, but much of the archival video that has been released (through the efforts of Carl Malamud and others) has made its way into the C-SPAN Video Library. Additionally, we have launched an automated process to post all congressional floor video to YouTube.

These developments make the original policy seem almost quaint in retrospect. One can only imagine what the next five years will bring….

CES 2012: Themes, Takeaways and Cool Stuff.

The CES show floor is certainly overwhelming and everything written about the crowds seems understated compared to the actual experience. There are moments of serendipity, but to keep focused (relatively, anyway) I was fortunate to participate in a CTAM-organized tour specificaly designed for members of the cable industry.

From a cable programmer perspective, it’s impressive to see the role of consumer electronics in driving the blending of live and linear programming with on-demand / web / streaming content into a common offering that is all accessed directly via the consumer’s main “TV”. This is all made possible by a bevy of “smart” devices (e.g. SmarTVs, Apple TVs, Google TV, Roku, Boxee, etc.) that can combine offerings (via “apps”) into a single menu.

To be effective, this converged offering requires search-based navigation much more advanced than the cable screen guides of the past. Many such systems — both real and planned — were on display at the show. These include Samsung “app” partnerships with Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon and DirecTV [pic]. Time Warner also announced development of an app for Panasonic TVs. Google TV  was prominently displayed at the LG booth [pic], including a nifty two-sided remote to handle QWERTY duties. To be discovered and viewed in this new world, programmers like C-SPAN must emphasize accurate and complete program information (i.e., metadata) and tags that can be incorporated in these new navigation systems. Companies like Rovi work to bridge this world between programmers and navigation interfaces. Another variation on discovery is to pull from the social grid, the aim of companies like Shelby.TV  In the old days, it was often enough for a programmer to get carried on a cable system and have your channel listed in the onscreen guide. No more. There will be mutlitude of navigation systems representing different combinations of devices, providers and apps.

A second, related theme is the ability to have all of this content on all screens in the home. This can take the form of a home gateways like ones we saw at Motorola and Intel [pic]. These route content to large monitors as well as iPads and tablets. Echostar made a big splash with a multi-room DVR preloaded with nightly big-4 network programming. Similar to the way Netflix “remembers” where to start the movie when a viewer moves from one screen to another, these are all elegant solutions for premium content. But simply “throwing” web content to the big screen is getting easier too. One example: “Shodogg” which “enables any smartphone to deliver any streaming media to any connected device”. Other examples: “Warpia” which uses wireless hardware to provide an HD quality connection between the PC and the TV [pic], and Flingo.

Personaly, I think the use of iPads and tablets to create “second screen” experiences has loads of potential for consumers and programmers. Already available via apps such as Yahoo’s Into_Now, these technologies “listen” to programming on the main screen and then pull up relevant data on the tablet. Civolution is working to build the infrastructure that will support “social television” apps like ConnecTV.

Other items of note from my two days on the floor:

1. Beautful OLED displays that are now being built in larger sizes, including Samsung’s famous 55″ model shown on the floor [pic]. Available later this year for $8-10K. There were also 4K HD displays that were absolutely stunning — although years away from mainstream distribution. And yes, 3D is still being aggressively pitched by the CE manufacturers and programmers. ESPN 3D had a booth on the floor.

2. Superthin Ultrabooks were everyhere. They are impressive looking.

3. The Samsung Note was every bit as impressive as the hype. This phone-tablet combo (dubbed a “phablet” by a member of our tour group) seemed to have a lot of potential for capturing written notes, which is not particularly easy on the iPad. To show off the technology, Samsung commissioned artists to draw caricatures on the Note. [pic]

4. Voice and gesture controls — for your TV and Computer. Not just for gaming anymore. We visited the Primesense booth for an impressive demo.

5. New developments in infrastructure to make in-home connections even easier. We visited the booth of Wi3 which uses a home’s internal coax network to create wired and wireless connectivity throughout the home (without affecting the bandwidth used for TV and HSD).

Beyond TV and video, we heard a provocative keynote by eBay CEO John Donahoe, whose theme was that in the next three years, technology will disrupt retailing as a business in much the same way it has disrupted the media business. (This keynote was taped for airing on C-SPAN. Watch it here.) There were some fascinating developments on the automotive front as well. For more on the show, check out Techcrunch’s lists of the cool and the crappy.

Update 1/16/12 : I’ve posted several photos here and a few short videos here.


Brian Lamb and a C-SPAN “Origin Story”

Today the Washington Post published a piece noting that C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb will soon receive the Lone Sailor Award, given to sea service veterans who have gone on to excellence in their civilian careers. The piece includes one of my favorite C-SPAN “origin stories” (of which there are several). I think that this tale from the Vietnam War era places the creation of C-SPAN in the context of the media environment of the time, and relates the “spark” that set Brian on his quest.

The bolt of lightning that eventually led to the creation of C-SPAN struck a Navy public affairs specialist named Brian Lamb 46 years ago when a flock of students invaded the Pentagon for a Vietnam War protest.

Then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara had allowed the kids access to the building in a show of goodwill. The group spread itself across a corridor and gathered peacefully until an ABC News correspondent arrived and turned on the cameras.

“These kids who had been quiet and serene stood up with their placards,” recalls Lamb. “What [television viewers] saw was not what was actually happening. They saw a minute-and-a-half story on the evening news. It was misleading. I said to myself, ‘It’s too bad the public can’t see the whole thing and let them make up their own mind.’ ”

He eventually founded a cable channel to do just that, and nearly half a century later, Lamb, 69, presides over a network that beams gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate and House of Representatives to 100 million television sets.

A Facelift for C-SPAN’s Capitol Hearings Site

Capitol Hearings is a C-SPAN website dedicated to providing media feeds directly from congressional hearings, as produced and made available by the Congress. (Both the House and Senate operate their own television production facilities.)  Currently, the site provides live audio from Senate Committees. Audio from the House and video from either body is not available at this time.

The site was long overdue for a new look — which debuted earlier this week.

When and if live video becomes available directly from the Congress it will be added to the site.  Other future enhancements include converting the audio feeds from Real to MP3. It’s important to note that these feeds are produced by the Congress (that is, they are public domain). the purpose of Capitol Hearings is to provide access to committee hearings even when C-SPAN cameras are not present.

WordPress, Vodpod, and the C-SPAN Video Library

UPDATE 2/28/11: Problem solved via some recoding of the C-SPAN player.

As can be seen below,  sometime during the past few months using Vodpod to embed C-SPAN Video Library programs has stopped working on WordPress. This is an issue with Vodpod and WordPress, since the embed code used by C-SPAN has not changed. There are some related discussions on Vodpod forums, but unfortunately no solution is available at this time except to use the Vodpod widget that places videos in a sidebar. For our part, we will look at changing our embed code to make it more Vodpod- (or WordPress-) friendly.

CSPAN – live streaming video powered by Livestream

Working with Livestream, C-SPAN has developed an embeddable player for live events.  (The C-SPAN Video Library offers an embeddable player for archived events.) Also available on Facebook, our live event player will be activated for selected public policy events, including the upcoming State of The Union Address. Below, I’ve embedded the C-SPAN live player using vodpod.

CSPAN on Livestream. cspan – Watch live streaming Internet TV. Broadcast your own live streaming videos, like CSPAN in Widescreen HD. Livestream, Be There.


The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show

I’ve created a rough photo blog of my two days spent in Las Vegas for the 2011 CES. This was my fourth trip, and certainly the most overwhelming with over 140,000 visitors.  I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in the annual CTAM tour led by Leslie Ellis. Tackling the expansive CES requires a good plan, and the CTAM tour (highly recommended!)  is targeted to technologies expected to have an impact on cable operators and programmers.

C-SPAN HD now available in Frankfort Kentucky

At C-SPAN we began producing high definition feeds of all three networks earlier this summer. Today, we go live in Frankfort Kentucky — our charter affiliate, the first cable system in America to carry C-SPAN HD fulltime. And as explained in the video below, Frankfort plans to launch our other nets soon. The rollout of HD feeds is on a system-by-system basis, and we expect more HD launches in the very near future.