As I Was Saying

C-SPAN’s Video Library Viral Reach

6/25/2013 4:07 AM

C-SPAN, a network that rarely hypes itself, bought a full-page ad about its latest “milestone” in two Washington, DC, publications during the recent Cable Show. 

The self-congratulatory message – actually a benchmark announcement to the network’s target audience – ran in Politico and The Hill, daily newspapers aimed at policy-makers and political advocates. It simply noted that the C-SPAN Video Library now tallies 200,000 hours of searchable, free videos from the network’s 26 years of Capitol Hill and other government and political coverage.  

That’s a 25% increase since the Video Library debuted in March 2010 with 160,000 hours of programming.  Dr. Robert Browning, a professor of political science and communications at Purdue University and, separately, director of the C-SPAN Archives, says that the increased inventory comes from content produced in the past three years on all three C-SPAN networks (including shows from Book TV and American History TV) plus 10,000 hours of older “recovered” videos made before 1987.  The archives found and digitized old videos, and like all content in the system, indexed every segment to make it searchable.

Browning points out enhancements in the dashboard of the video library site, which identifies how specific C-SPAN clips go viral, racking up thousands of views when they are linked to stories published on websites such as the Huffington Post or The Washington Post.  He also cites political bloggers discovering and using the C-SPAN inventory as a major trigger for some videos of arcane Washington speechifying.  On the day we looked at usage levels together, Browning observed that “Rand Paul is very popular right now.”  Specifically, a video of the Senator’s speech, which a popular news site linked, had already attracted nearly 9,000 views, according to the tally display.  

“We know we have a long tail,” Browning told me.  The archives get about 25,000 views on a typical day, with most of the viewing done on about 6,000 to 8,000 thousand clips that are linked to blogs or news reports.  “We see spikes [in viewing] when a C-SPAN clip is picked up somewhere else.”  The dashboard identifies the most-viewed clips on the current day, during the past seven days and past 30 days. 

Although the library is intended for students and policy makers to review content, Browning acknowledges that political “opposition research” and fact-checking represents a significant amount of usage.  Viewers can pay a modest sum (under $5) to download a single speech snippet or a complete Congressional hearing – again abetted by the Library’s indexing system, which lets researchers hone in on specific segments. 

As the C-SPAN Video Library continues to grow, Browning says that it is moving to the cloud.  Since its inception, the Library has pulled down every C-SPAN satellite signal, recorded and indexed the content and hosted it on servers at Purdue Research Park, a business center near the West Lafayette, Indiana, campus.  Now the content is spread among multiple hosting venues.

That, he expects, will make it easier and faster for political junkies to see the clips they want – for whatever reason.