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C-Span Founder to Step Down as Chief Executive
Brian Lamb, who created the revolutionary nonprofit cable television network C-Span in the late 1970s and has been its public face ever since, is handing it over to two lieutenants, Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain.
Effective April 1, they will become the co-chief executives of C-Span and Mr. Lamb will become the executive chairman, formalizing a management change that has been years in the making. Mr. Lamb will continue to host "Q&A," his Sunday night interview program, and will pursue other interests, like teaching.
The announcement will come on Monday, 33 years to the day that C-Span - short for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network - came onto cable television, predating CNN and ESPN.
C-Span's commitment to carry every minute of the proceedings of the United States House of Representatives without commercials is taken for granted now, but it was an extraordinary act at the time, since most Americans then saw of Congress only what was reported on the nightly news and in newspapers.
C-Span, and later C-Span2 for the United States Senate and C-Span3 for other hearings and events, foreshadowed an era of media when primary source material like testimonies before Congress would be widely available on TV and on the Internet.
Mr. Lamb, 70, said in an interview that Mr. Kennedy and Ms. Swain would "continue the mission" of televising the nation's affairs. They have worked at C-Span since the 1980s and have been the presidents and co-chief operating officers since 2006. "They're ready," Mr. Lamb said.
Mr. Lamb, a white-haired Washington staple whose name is synonymous with C-Span, is among the last of the founding generation of cable TV creators to give up the title of chief executive. He said he had been planning to do so for at least two years.
"Brian has been very thoughtful about preparing for this transition," said Glenn Britt, the chief executive of Time Warner Cable, the current chairman of the board that governs C-Span. "He's doing this at a time when he thinks he's ready and he thinks the organization is ready."
Mr. Britt and Neil Smit, the chief executive of Comcast's cable division and a fellow C-Span board member, said the transition was entirely Mr. Lamb's choice. "It's been a pretty lengthy succession planning process," Mr. Smit said. The board approved the transition last September.
As co-chief executives, Ms. Swain will oversee the content and marketing parts of C-Span and Mr. Kennedy will oversee the business, engineering and information technology parts. Together they will oversee digital strategy. Ms. Swain calls herself "the software," and Mr. Kennedy "the hardware."
In a joint interview, they said they would concentrate on new technologies while continuing to simulcast governmental affairs on television.
"A 33-year-old organization needs to do the things it does best, but also migrate to where our customers are," Ms. Swain said.
"It's a case of never resting on our laurels, as it were," Mr. Kennedy added.
The three C-Span channels subsist on about 6 cents a month per subscriber, giving it a total budget of about $60 million a year. With the funds, C-Span sends camera crews to events and produces programs like "Washington Journal," "Book TV" and "American History TV."
Although the C-Span network is not rated by Nielsen because it does not have commercials, "it gets a lot of viewership," Mr. Smit said, citing data from set-top boxes and focus groups. "People love their C-Span."
Though the network has undoubtedly had public relations benefits for the cable and satellite industries over the years, it was initially conceived as a public service. The idea was Mr. Lamb's, who was a reporter covering the communications industry in Washington when he started proposing the concept to the operators of then-new cable systems across the country. He received support from industry executives like Robert Rosencrans, who gave Mr. Lamb a $25,000 check to get started.
"They did not have to do this," Mr. Lamb said of those in the cable industry. "It was one of those moments where the collective good of all those individuals paid off."
To Mr. Lamb's dismay, the House would not let C-Span install its own cameras in the chamber in 1979; it allowed access only to a television feed controlled by the Congress itself. That is why, in a debate for instance, the camera is trained on the speaker, not the person being spoken about. "We've asked them many times to loosen it up," to no avail, Mr. Lamb said.
C-Span has also tried and failed many times to lobby for television coverage of Supreme Court arguments. Instead, it plays the audio tapes of oral arguments when they are released.
The network increasingly faces competition from the federal government, which is streaming its own proceedings and hearings on the Internet - "the last thing I expected to have happen," Mr. Lamb said.
Ms. Swain added, "We really have to be nimble, in ways we didn't when we were the only game in town."
As executive chairman, Mr. Lamb said he intends to stay out of Mr. Kennedy and Ms. Swain's way, but to be available to give advice and support. Last year he packed up his librarylike office overlooking Capitol Hill and moved into a smaller space.
"I'm not retiring in the true sense of it," he said. "But you know, most people in this business, they love it. I love it. I can't imagine doing anything else."
And when you love something, he added, "you want to share it with other people."