Spending all day glued to a hearing on C-SPAN may not be what you do every day. But there are times when it’s essential. And no outlet covers the Capitol with as much depth. Thankfully, you don’t need to sign up for a long-term cable contract to watch it. We explain all your options below!
In a hurry? There is only one live TV streaming service that offers C-SPAN: DIRECTV STREAM. The basic plan costs $69.99/mo and offers roughly 80 channels including all your local network affiliates and more. A 5-day free trial is now available for DIRECTV STREAM.
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If you can’t get enough politics, there is a good chance that you have spent many hours watching the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN).
For more than 40 years, C-SPAN has provided extensive coverage of all three branches of the American government — from Supreme court decisions to executive signings to congressional hearings. Furthermore, it provides coverage of important political events in Australia, Britain, and other developed nations.
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All About C-SPAN
In March 1979, C-SPAN began broadcasting to more than three million homes in the United States. Founder Brian Lamb said that the network was designed to provide Americans with a more meaningful look at how the government truly functions.
Lamb had also hoped that putting the government on TV would create a greater level of transparency and accountability among those elected to serve the American people. At first, the station focused on what was taking place in the House of Representatives.
In 1979, future Vice-President Al Gore was a representative from Tennessee. He has the distinction of being the first person to speak on C-Span. He used his time to extol the virtues of a more transparent government and how C-SPAN would help in that effort.
Throughout the 1980s, C-SPAN expanded its reach and increased its breadth of programming. In June 1986, C-SPAN2 was launched, which primarily provided coverage of votes, speeches, and other events taking place in the Senate.
In 1997, the precursor to C-SPAN3 was launched for viewers in the Washington DC area. In 2001, it adopted that moniker and was available to cable viewers throughout the United States.
In addition to the three channels, C-SPAN has a dedicated radio network that was also launched in 1997. Finally, you can stream on-demand and archived footage on C-SPAN.org.
The founder of C-SPAN ceded control of his creation in March 2012. However, the channel is still run by the nonprofit National Cable Satellite Corporation (NCSC). It continues to be an essential resource for coverage of the US Congress, White House, and Supreme Court.
The original C-SPAN dedicated itself to coverage of the House largely because it didn’t have permission to put cameras on the Senate floor until 1986.
When this channel isn’t televising floor speeches, it is likely providing limited coverage of committee meetings, press conferences, and anything else involving members of this body that might take place anywhere in the country.
C-SPAN2 serves the same purpose as C-SPAN except for the fact that it covers the Senate instead of the House. William L Armstrong is the man who is credited with convincing the Senate to allow its business to be broadcast throughout the nation.
C-SPAN3 is a multipurpose channel that mostly focuses on political events in general such as rallies or press conferences. You’re also more likely to see coverage of international political bodies on this channel. In addition, C-SPAN3 serves as a relief outlet when there are scheduling conflicts between the other main C-SPAN channels.
In addition to its coverage of events, C-SPAN features a few shows that have become popular with viewers.
- American History TV: Discussions and documentaries of various aspects of the country’s history.
- Book TV: Features writers discussing books that will appeal to C-SPAN viewers.
- Politics and Public Policy Today: This show airs on C-SPAN3 for 4 hours starting at 8 pm (ET). Viewers are treated to an overview of the day’s events in a condensed fashion, which may make important issues easier to understand.
- Prime Minster’s Questions: Features recordings of lively Question Time sessions from the British House of Commons.
- Washington Journal: Since 1995, this show has aired every morning on C-SPAN. It features a mixture of government leaders and journalists who offer their take on current events. In many cases, guests will answer questions posed either by the host or by the general public.
If you are in the Washington DC area, you can listen to C-SPAN by tuning your dial to WCSP-FM (90.1 FM), which is also known as C-SPAN Radio. Nationally, this channel is available through XM Radio. And it can be streamed everywhere via C-SPAN.org.
While a select few C-SPAN television programs are simulcast or replayed on its radio network, it also contains a significant amount of original content that isn’t able to air on television. This typically includes oral histories of significant events in American politics, political rallies, and other items that may be better suited for a radio broadcast.
C-SPAN hosts a number of podcasts that are designed to cater to multiple niches. For example, Booknotes+, About Books, and After Words all feature conversations with nonfiction authors.
Meanwhile, Q&A and Washington Today are meant to provide an interactive and engaging forum to help listeners learn more about the issues that have the greatest impact on their lives.
Finally, there are a number of podcasts dedicated to historic speeches, lectures from prominent academics, and other general content.
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There are a few ways to live stream C-SPAN.
C-SPAN is available on all four service packages from DIRECTV STREAM (formerly AT&T TV). The least expensive package, Entertainment, is $69.99/mo and offers roughly 80 channels. It also provides access to TV Everywhere, which means you can also stream directly from the C-SPAN website (see below). Get DIRECTV STREAM free for 5 days.
You can watch on most popular streaming devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android mobile, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS devices, Roku, Samsung smart TVs, and web browsers.
All plans come with unlimited cloud DVR (online subscribers only) and streaming on up to 20 devices at the same time. See our DIRECTV STREAM review for details.
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The C-SPAN Now app allows you to watch all three streams for free. The catch? It is only available for Android and iOS mobile devices. You can also use it to listen to C-SPAN’s radio station.
The three C-SPAN channels stream on the C-SPAN website. to access them, you must have a TV provider that supports TV Everywhere. If you do have cable or satellite, it’s likely you will be able to use them. DIRECTV STREAM also supports this. But given the device limitations, it isn’t that important for this channel.
Although C-SPAN hasn’t been able to bring political harmony to our nation, it does serve as an effective tool for those who want to learn more about our government. There aren’t a lot of options to stream it. We recommend DIRECTV STREAM unless you don’t mind watching on a smartphone, in which case the free app is the way to go!
Other News Channels
Here are our guides for watching other news channels:
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