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The House Speaker Drama Has One Winner: C-SPAN -- WSJ

The Wall Street Journal · 01/06/2023 10:00

By Sarah Krouse

C-SPAN's television ratings surged as viewers tuned in to watch the drama unfolding in the U.S. House of Representatives, where multiple attempts to elect a speaker have failed over several days.

The channel was watched by some 379,000 households on Tuesday, the first day of the new Congress, a 161% increase over the opening day of the prior Congress in 2021, according to an estimate from Samba TV, a measurement firm that tracks what people are watching on smart TVs. Viewership remained elevated the next day.

As of Friday morning, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, had failed to secure the speakership after 11 rounds of voting. While most Republicans have supported Mr. McCarthy, 20 have opposed him, enough to prevent him from winning a majority of votes

The last time the speaker vote went past the first ballot was 1923, when it took nine. The current 11-round run without a winner is the longest since 1860, when it took 44 ballots to select a leader. In 2021, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi was re-elected in a single round of voting.

C-SPAN is a nonprofit organization funded by cable and satellite TV providers that shows proceedings in the House and Senate as well as other public happenings such as speeches. For much of its daily congressional coverage, C-SPAN must rely on footage from government employees who are restricted in what they can shoot. On a typical day, the network shows members giving speeches on the floor and wide shots of the room.

During certain special events, including the State of the Union and the speaker elections, Congress allows C-SPAN to dispatch its own cameras and operators to the House chamber. That gives the network more freedom to get close-ups and reactions from members of Congress, said Ben O'Connell, director of editorial operations at C-SPAN.

C-SPAN drew media attention this week for capturing interactions between lawmakers known for being far apart on the ideological spectrum, including New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Florida Republican Matt Gaetz.

C-SPAN wants to be able to dispatch its cameras more often, including when major pieces of legislation are up for a vote. "We'd love to be able to show the negotiating happening on the floor, rather than just the wide shots and the speeches," Mr. O'Connell said.

The network in the past has written to congressional leaders asking for access to film major proceedings. For example, the network asked for permission to have its cameras in the Senate to cover the 2021 impeachment trial of President Trump, but wasn't allowed to do so.

Mr. O'Connell said viewer interest in the speaker election this week has been unlike anything he has seen during his more than 20 years at C-SPAN.

Samba TV data show that C-SPAN TV viewership was higher on Jan. 3 than during other recent Tuesdays when the House was in session conducting legislative business. Interest in the proceedings also bolstered viewership of nearly all cable news networks, compared with the opening of the 117th Congress in 2021, Samba TV found.

"TV viewers are getting a rare glimpse of the jockeying for power that typically happens outside of public view," said Dallas Lawrence, senior vice president at Samba TV.

Write to Sarah Krouse at sarah.krouse@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 06, 2023 10:00 ET (15:00 GMT)

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