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C-SPAN Will Gavel in More History

Public-affairs net one of three outlets getting direct feed of live Supreme Court oral argument

This story originally appeared on GV’s sister publication Multichannel News

It took a worldwide pandemic, but the U.S. Supreme Court is finally allowing live streaming of oral arguments. It is audio, not video, but still progress, the kind of progress that C-SPAN has been pushing for over three decades.

The suite of public-affairs networks funded by the cable industry will carry the live audio on its TV, audio and digital platforms—that would be C-SPAN, C-SPAN Radio, the C-SPAN Radio App and—beginning Monday (May 4).

Appropriately, one of the first-day arguments, U.S. Patent & Trademark Office v., will be one involving the internet: the effort by the online travel site to trademark its website.

That will be one of 10 arguments C-SPAN will be covering this month.

Multichannel News talked to C-SPAN corporate Vice President and general counsel Bruce Collins about the historic live coverage, which for C-SPAN and Collins, who joined the operation in 1981, has been more than three decades in the making. Here’s an edited transcript.

MCN: How is the court making the live audio available to the public?

Bruce Collins: C-SPAN is one of three news media entities that have a direct feed from the court.

MCN: Who are the other two?

BC: The network pool, currently being run by Fox, and the AP. Frankly, I don’t think they [the Supreme Court is] putting it on their website because they couldn’t handle the traffic. That is why the court called us to see how we were going to distribute it. They were interested in maximum distribution because the network pool is only for the TV people and subscribers—the people who pay.

We told them we would be happy to be a direct link because we would distribute it nationwide and free, and beyond cable television subscribers because we are putting it on our website and our free C-SPAN Radio app for download. So, anyone with a cellphone and the app is going to be able to listen to these live.

MCN: Can other news organizations not part of the pool feed just access your link and use it?

BC: I suppose they could because it is basically just public domain information. It’s not like we could stop them.

MCN: How are you going to handle the audio, graphically, on TV?

BC: We have been covering oral arguments starting with Bush v. Gore in 2000, the first time that the court released an audio recording, in this case a couple of hours afterwards.

We did then what we have done many times subsequently, which is to get the pictures of the justices and the pictures of the lawyers and run them whenever they are speaking. Usually just by close listening you can tell who is speaking. Then we use a few explanatory graphics along the way.